Over 700,000 Petitioners Demand Honduran Congress Reject Law Criminalizing Emergency Contraception
Advocates, lawyers, and citizens gathered today in protest on steps of Honduran Congress
(PRESS RELEASE) Over 700,000 people have signed a petition demanding the Honduran Congress reject the latest attempt to criminalize the use or sale of emergency contraception. The proposed legislation —which was recently upheld by the Honduras Supreme Court—would impose punishment for offenders equal to punishment for obtaining or performing an abortion, which in Honduras is completely restricted. Under this new proposed law, even providing information about emergency contraception would be considered a criminal act.The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with local partner Centro de Derechos de Mujeres and Avaaz, held a rally today on the steps of the Honduran Congress to present Congressional President Juan Orlando Hernández with the petition. The full Congress is expected to vote on the legislation next week. “Honduras is getting closer to becoming one of the most dangerous places across the globe for women’s reproductive rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “But it’s not too late. The Honduran government still has a chance to prove they respect women and their right to control their reproductive health by rejecting this attempt to criminalize the use of emergency contraception.”Honduras has banned the selling and distribution of emergency contraception since 2009, with the threat of fines and administrative penalties to those found in violation. However, if passed, the proposed legislation would impose harsh criminal punishments on any medical professional who distribute and sell emergency contraception and any woman who uses or attempts to use the medication to prevent an unintended pregnancy.This legislation would make simply being caught with an emergency contraceptive pill on par with attempting an abortion. Currently, anyone who performs an abortion in Honduras can be sentenced anywhere from three to 10 years in prison, depending on if the woman consents or if violence and intimidation is a factor. Women who seek an abortion face three to six years in prison. “Thousands upon thousands of people, women and men, teens and grandparents, all across the world have raised their voices on behalf of the women of Honduras,” said Alejandra Cárdenas, legal advisor for Latin America and Caribbean at the Center and primary speaker at today’s protest. “Honduran officials now know that world is watching and we will speak out loudly against these assaults against reproductive rights. This is just the first step.”The Center has been working with local and international women’s rights groups to fight this ban on emergency contraception since it was first passed by the Honduran Congress in April 2009. Then-President José Manuel Zelaya was successfully urged to veto the ban a month after it was passed — immediately making the issue a matter before the Supreme Court. However, following the country’s June 2009 coup d’état, the de facto minister of health issued an administrative regulation in October 2009 banning emergency contraception, despite not yet having a ruling from the Supreme Court that would allow criminal enforcement of the ban. Since then, the Center and its local partners have been challenging this regulation—but the administration has refused to issue a final decision.The Supreme Court did finally issue its ruling in February 2012, which paved the way for the Honduran Congress to consider a law that would impose harsh criminal punishments on any medical professionals who distribute and sell emergency contraception and any woman who uses or attempts to use the medication to prevent an unintended pregnancy. While there has significant anti-choice efforts to restrict access to emergency contraception worldwide and specifically in Central and Latin America—including in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru—Honduras’ ban is the most sweeping so far. These extreme bans on emergency contraception have been widely recognized by international and regional human rights bodies, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as violations of a woman’s ability to exercise her fundamental rights. Medical studies around the globe have deemed emergency contraception a safe, effective method of birth control after unprotected sex or when routine contraception fails. Despite false reports that describe emergency contraception as an “abortion pill,” emergency contraception is simply a higher dose of the same medication in typical birth control pills, and works by preventing an egg from being fertilized. Access to emergency contraception can be a critical tool in preventing unwanted pregnancies — especially in countries where regular birth control can be difficult to obtain. Up to half of the sexually-active young women in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have experienced challenges obtaining modern contraceptives — a statistic that is much higher for single women than married women and especially high among adolescent women.