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Ecuador Decriminalized Abortion In Rape Cases — What That Means For South America


Now on to South America and specifically to Ecuador, where the country's highest court has eased restrictions on abortion in cases of rape. The decision, made last month, comes two years after the National Assembly rejected a similar bill and months after Argentina legalized abortion in a milestone for Latin America. However, conservative opponents of abortion rights remain prominent in Ecuador. They are backed by the Catholic Church. Sociologist and lawyer Ana Cristina Vera has advocated for this legal change as director of the feminist group Surkuna. She joins us today from Ecuador's capital, Quito, to talk about how these tensions are playing out.


ANA CRISTINA VERA: Glad to be here.

KELLY: So talk about what has changed in the last couple of years since this did not pass in Ecuador just two years ago, in 2019.

VERA: Well, I think that feminist groups are very strong now, and we are fighting a lot for change in the law. We fight together with other womens (ph) in Latin America in order to have abortion discriminalized (ph) in all Latin America.

KELLY: I mentioned Argentina, and I wonder if that - well, I wonder how closely watched that has been in Ecuador. Argentina fully decriminalized abortion up until 14 weeks of pregnancy. That was just at the end of last year.

VERA: Yes, it was very important for us because in Latin America, what happen in one country influence the others. And in Ecuador, what happen is that some womens (ph) begins to be more criminalized by abortion. In January, for example, we have five or six cases of women criminalized by an abortion. So for us, it's very important to win these demands on the highest court because we are facing very high criminalization for womens (ph).

KELLY: Although I have to note that the latest polling shows most people in Ecuador approve of abortion only when the mother's health is in danger. This is data from a Vanderbilt University AmericasBarometer study, a recent study. What has been the national conversation? What has been the response?

VERA: I think the national opinion have (ph) changed a lot. We have had a very big discussion here in order to note that womens (ph) and girls who has (ph) been victim of rape needs their rights to be guaranteed. So I think social discussion have (ph) changed. And now, we are trying to put the womens (ph) and the girls - victim of violence in the center of this discussion.

KELLY: What do you see as the role of the Catholic Church?

VERA: Here, is very strong the role of the Catholic Church. For example, the day where the court were (ph) deciding, they were there. They were only mens (ph) with their big flags in order to tell us that we don't have rights.

KELLY: Now again, this change applies in cases of rape. Is there any national conversation about other circumstances? Do you see this as a first step towards a wider loosening of abortion laws?

VERA: Yes, we call (ph) - we discriminalize (ph) abortion in all cases. But I think that people have to understand that we are fighting for the right of abortion as a human right being (ph). Because, as I tell you, here, we have womens (ph) who go to jail because of abortion, and we think that's not fair. No women, no girl should be criminalized because of taking (ph) a decision of her reproductive life. So we see this like a first step in order to achieve women's right.

KELLY: That is Ana Cristina Vera, director of the feminist group Surkuna, speaking with us from Quito, Ecuador. Thank you very much for taking the time.

VERA: Thank you, you too.


Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Adriana Tapia