Abortion Law and Policy Reform: Bolivia, El Salvador
and Human Rights Council/ Rights of the Child
28 March 2017
Penalising abortion does not eliminate or reduce clandestinity Abortion law reform debate in the public domain
A proposal for reforming the law on abortion is making "a lot of noise" in Bolivia, according to one media source.
The President of the Bolivian Senate, José Alberto González, confirmed to the media on 10 March that the proposals are part of broader reforms to the country's Penal Code, which are being considered by the Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. While he recognised, he said, that there are views on both sides of the issue, the "scandalously high" number of maternal deaths from clandestine abortions had to be taken into account. The President of the Chamber of Deputies, Gabriela Montaño, pointed out that those from the middle and upper class are able to obtain abortions safely in the best of conditions while those who are poor face the risk of death.
Article 157 in the proposed amendments states that the practice of abortion will not constitute a criminal offence when requested by the woman and in compliance with certain conditions – that abortion can be practised within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, but once per woman only, and only if the woman is in a situation of extreme poverty and does not have sufficient resources to maintain herself and her family, or if she has three or more children, or if she is a student.
The amendments also state that abortion can take place at any stage of pregnancy if there is a risk to the health or the life of the pregnant woman, or a fetal anomaly incompatible with life is detected. And lastly, abortion of a pregnancy that is the consequence of rape or incest may take place, or if the pregnancy is in a child or an adolescent.
According to Ipas Bolivia, fewer than 100 legal abortions have been recorded since 2014, against an estimated 185 illegal abortions per day. Others, such as Somos Sur in Cochabamba, note that 67,000 women are treated in hospital each year for complications of unsafe abortion, and as many as 500-600 die, making unsafe abortion the third leading cause of maternal death in Bolivia.
Although Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, claimed that "any abortion is a crime” in 2013, he also acknowledged that he was not an expert on the topic and expressed his willingness to discuss the subject with female ministers. Now, his own party, Movement for Socialism, is putting the bill forward. Mr. Morales has apparently tried to detach himself from the controversy by saying that he was not involved in drafting the bill, but feminist collective Mujeres Creando have criticised his lack of empathy and commitment to Bolivian women: “He never says a word about the men who practise abortion by abandon the woman they made pregnant”...
Enough of incarcerating women: decriminalise abortion El Salvador: the debate on abortion law reform is officially open
This year is the first time that this Central American country has openly debated abortion, forcing even conservative media organisations to cover the issue in editorials and primetime news programmes since abortion was made completely illegal almost 20 years ago.
In February 2017, CEDAW published its recommendations to the El Salvador government that it should decriminalise abortion at least in certain circumstances, and should expedite the adoption of the draft law tabled by the FMLN on four grounds to that effect. During CEDAW's deliberations, the Agrupación, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP submitted an expert report detailing how the extreme hostility exercised under the existing law put the lives and health of Salvadoran women at grave risk.
On 20 March, the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Issues of the Legislative Assembly held a consultation on the two pending bills to reform Article 133 of the Penal Code in relation to abortion, the one a bill to increase the criminal penalties for abortion, tabled by Deputy Ricardo Velázquez Parker of the ARENA party, the other a bill to decriminalise abortion on four grounds, tabled by Lorena Peña of the FMLN.
The FMLN bill would allow abortion in cases of risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman, fetal anomaly incompatible with life, pregnancies resulting from rape or trafficking, and for girls and adolescents who would have to face motherhood imposed by sexual abuse.
Then, on 24 March, they reported that two representatives of the US Congress, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Norma J Torres, delivered a letter signed by 21 members of Congress, including the senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, to the President of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and the President of the Salvadoran Congress, Guillermo Gallegos Navarrete. The letter asked them also to support the efforts to decriminalise abortion on four grounds. In the letter, these members of the US Congress expressed their opposition to the total ban on abortion in El Salvador and called on President Sánchez Cerén to work with civil society and the Salvadoran Congress to advance the FMLN amendments. The letter also emphasises that while the decriminalization of abortion on the four grounds is not sufficient to guarantee access to all reproductive health services for Salvadoran women, it does represent a significant improvement and brings El Salvador closer to complying with international human rights standards...
On 24 March 2017, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted its annual resolution on the rights of the child. In response, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Sexual Rights Initiative and Child Rights Connect published a joint statement in response, which criticises the HRC statement for not representing the most advanced human rights standards pertaining to the protection of the rights of the child, and for falling below the agreement reached in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This is their statement:
…In particular, the resolution fails to incorporate the right to be heard, the right to participate, adolescents’ rights to sexual and reproductive health, and the principle of evolving capacities. Moreover, the resolution neglects the particular needs of children with disabilities and LGBTI children and does not recognize that family environments are often sites of violence, especially for girls.
The resolution reaffirms that ‘the child should grow up in a family environment […] and that families' and caregivers' capacities to provide the child with care and a safe environment should be promoted’. The resolution however does not acknowledge the fact that for many children, especially girls, family environments are places of violence. According to UNICEF, ‘on average, about 6 in 10 children worldwide (almost 1 billion) between the ages of 2 and 14 are subjected to physical (corporal) punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis.
The resolution does not mention that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls cannot be achieved without respecting, protecting and fulfilling girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights to ensure the full realization of the 2030 agenda. This is especially problematic given the two panels held during this session on the Rights of the Child and Maternal Mortality and Human Rights, respectively, in which States, UN agencies and civil society stressed the strategic urgency to fulfill adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights.
The resolution does not highlight the fact that girls, especially marginalized girls including girls with disabilities, are also often denied their right to decide freely on matters concerning their body and sexual and reproductive health, does not reiterate their right to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services free for discrimination, coercion and violence as agreed upon in Goal 5 and numerous international agreements and fails to oblige States to guarantee the provision of evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education for children and adolescents.
Even though the resolution aims to ‘leave no one behind’, it does not recognize the importance of youth and children and youth and children-led organizations as crucial partners in the implementation of the 2030 agenda. Furthermore, LGBTI children and adolescents are excluded in the list of marginalized children. Children with disabilities are only mentioned once and the resolution does not mention the 93 million children with disabilities in the world likely to be among the poorest and most marginalized members of the population and doesn’t address their specific concerns...