TEGUCIGALPA – Xiomara Castro has made history as Honduras’ first female president – now she faces another battle to ease the country’s strict ban on abortion.
Women’s rights campaigners hope the country is on the verge of joining other Latin American nations in expanding access to abortion, although Castro may struggle to carry on with her campaign pledge in the face of strong conservative opposition.
“There has never been a more optimal circumstance to step up the fight to ensure every pregnancy because of the desire to be a mother,” said Nysa Medina, a member of the feminist collective Somos Muchas.
“Honduras progressed as a country and it voted for a woman closer to the feminist movement,” she said.
Honduras is one of six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that ban abortion under all circumstances, and it is the only country in the region to ban emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill.
Castro, a former First Lady whose political career began after leading a national protest movement against the 2009 coup that ousted her husband Manuel Zelaya as president, campaigned for women’s rights in her election campaign. Emphasis on commitments.
His government’s plan is to legalize abortion in the case of rape, risk to the mother’s life and fetal malformation. He has also promised to allow the use and distribution of the Morning After Pill.
But Castro, of the leftist Liber Party, will face an uphill struggle to undo the regressive policies of post-coup conservative governments, said Regina Fonseca, founder of the Center for Women’s Rights.
Since the coup, the government has banned emergency contraception, banned abortion in the constitution, and reduced criminal penalties for gender-based violence.
This January, legislators voted to change the existing law to make abortion more difficult to decriminalize by requiring a three-quarter majority in Congress.
Feminist groups filed a legal appeal, which is ongoing and will be crucial to providing Castro with conditions to follow through on his promise to make the process crime-free.
“The challenges facing this country’s first elected female president are much greater than those of previous governments,” Fonseca said.
“There’s a lot to rebuild.”
According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 40% of pregnancies in Honduras are unplanned or unwanted, and the United Nations estimates that between 51,000 and 82,000 Honduran women and girls are at risk of unsafe abortion each year.
In 2017, more than 8,700 women were hospitalized in Honduras due to complications of abortion, according to the latest data available from the Ministry of Public Health.
Most Latin American countries, including Brazil – the most populous, allow abortions only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risks to the mother.
But some nations have moved to liberalize access as women’s rights movements call for a change in the Roman Catholic sphere at large and a change in attitude.
Argentina became the first major Latin American country to legalize abortion last year, while Mexico’s top court ruled to decriminalize abortion in another watershed moment in September.
About 60% of Hondurans believe that abortion should be legalized in terms of risk to the mother’s life and fetal malformations, and about 46% in cases of rape and incest, according to Honduran opinion polling firm Le Vote According to the 2018 survey.
But nine in 10 people opposed the offer of abortion on demand, and nearly half said all Honduran women who managed to terminate a pregnancy despite the current ban should be jailed.
The Conservative National Party, Castro’s strongest rival in the election, aimed to create fear and whip up their base by calling her a “baby killer” ahead of the election.
The party wrote in a September statement, “We declare ourselves completely against abortion and all evil Hondurans who seek to promote a perverse agenda and try to turn our country into a country covered with the blood of innocent children.” We do.”
Medina said the election results showed that most Honduras were not affected by those smears.
Voter anger over allegations of the incumbent president’s ties to rising poverty, corruption and drug trafficking helped seal Castro’s victory, and ended 12 years of rule by the National Party.
“We want a change,” said 27-year-old Libre supporter Zuri Castro – who is not related to the incoming president – at a celebration where he cited the economy, education and healthcare as his biggest concerns.
“We think a woman can do that,” she said.
As Castro aims to advance his reform agenda, he will need support from the country’s Congress to update the laws and pass new laws.
As of Monday, with the results of the congressional election not finalised, Libre was expected to regain control with a slim majority for the party and its allies.
Controlling Congress would mean that Castro could pass on most of his agenda without negotiating with conservative opposition parties.
However, without a supreme majority, she could struggle to get the three-quarters threshold needed to make abortion a crime.
‘We are leaving a matchbox country behind’
However, Congressional approval is not required to allow emergency contraception. The current ban was implemented with a ministerial decree and could be scrapped with a new one from Castro’s health minister, which is yet to be announced.
But the prospect of introducing legislation to protect women’s rights and access to abortion just represents a major political shift for Honduras, women’s rights advocates said.
In celebration of Castro’s victory, 22-year-old marketing student Andrea Moncada said: “We are very proud as women.”
“It means empowerment. We are leaving behind a matchbox country that has pushed women aside.”
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