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Push to make abortion a 'human right' in Ecuador defeated after veto

Pro-life sign
A pro-life demonstrator holds up a sign during the 2020 March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 24, 2020. |

The Ecuadoran National Assembly failed to override a presidential veto of an abortion bill that critics feared would make abortion a human right and require healthcare workers in the country to participate in the practice against their will. 

After President Guillermo Lasso partially vetoed an abortion bill passed by the majority-Catholic South American country's unicameral legislature, the National Assembly had until Friday to override the veto. 

The motion to lift the presidential veto Thursday received just 17 votes, far short of the majority required for a veto override. National Assembly President Guadalupe Llori has adjourned the legislative session, so the president’s veto of the measure stands.

Valerie Huber, the CEO of the Institute for Women’s Health who served as the U.S. special representative for Global Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration, told The Christian Post in an email that the pro-life movement “won” the battle in Ecuador. 

“It was created supposedly to just create a very narrow exception for abortion in matters of rape but in reviewing the law, it was pages and pages and pages of things that had absolutely nothing to do with that narrow exception," Huber argued.

"More than 20 times, it asserted abortion as a human right. It removed all conscience protections for any kind of healthcare providers that would be called upon in that country to provide abortion against their consciences." 

Ecuador's abortion laws are opposed by international abortion-rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, which contends that the country's criminalization of abortion "undermines the ability of women and girls to access essential reproductive health services."

“Ecuador should remove all criminal penalties for consensual abortion," Ximena Casas, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "At a minimum, it should guarantee effective access to abortion on all legal grounds and stop prosecuting women and girls seeking essential medical care.”

Huber had voiced her concerns about Ecuador's abortion bill in an April 5 op-ed for National Review. She argued that the bill “sets the stage for a whole upending of the country’s laws" and asserts "that abortion is a fundamental right."

"There is definitely an ulterior motive here that has nothing to do with how it was being sold both to Congress and to the general public in Ecuador," Huber told CP.

She said that in Ecuador, “the president is permitted to provide recommendations for different texts in [a] bill before it becomes law."

Huber praised Lasso for removing “any assertion that there is an international right or that abortion is a human right,” adding that he “addressed virtually all of the concerns that we had in terms of how it would not only harm women, but it was unconstitutional because Ecuador has a very pro-life provision in their constitution.”

Article 45 of the Ecuadoran Constitution proclaims that the government “shall recognize and guarantee life, including care and protection from the time of conception.”

Huber insisted that the Institute for Women’s Health "is not a pro-life organization" but should be seen as "a pro-women’s health organization.”

“We would like it if we never had to talk abortion," she stated. "It’s really those who are elevating abortion over authentic women’s health that are conflating the two.”

“But I will tell you that those who would insist that a woman can’t have health without abortion are organized," she continued. "They have overtaken the narrative surrounding women’s health. But it’s a disingenuous narrative that most Americans and most citizens around the world don’t realize how harmful this really is to women."

Huber expressed concern about “women’s health being subjugated to an ideological agenda with little concern for women themselves.” She also lamented the “external interference” of members of the U.S. Congress in the “internal abortion decisions of other countries.”

A letter written by Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., and 19 other congressional Democrats urging Lasso to support the legislation drew the ire of Huber. Human Rights Watch also expressed support for the legislation and the congressional Democrats’ letter.

“Research by Ecuadorean and international human rights organizations shows that abortion restrictions do not stop abortions from happening,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Instead, they force women and girls to seek abortions in clandestine settings where abortions are carried out unsafely and lead to health complications and even death. The World Health Organization has reported that the rate of unsafe abortions is four times higher in countries with restrictive abortion laws than in countries where abortion is legal.”

The pressure campaigns from U.S. lawmakers and nongovernmental organizations constituted “colonialism by another name," Huber contends. 

She cited the efforts in support of the law as an example of how “American abortion activists want to impose their extremism on other countries.” The effort, she says, extends far beyond Ecuador and touches “virtually any country that currently has laws protecting life during every stage of life.”

“The sad reality is that few Americans know what the United States is doing to devalue life abroad and to pressure countries to change their laws on areas that are fully within the sovereign right of those countries to decide and that the United States should not be interfering," she said. 

Huber argues that some provisions in U.S. law prevent officials from "exporting an abortion agenda." She cited the Helms Amendment, which prohibits any tax dollars being used abroad for abortion or for its promotion. The 1981 Siljander Amendment states that the U.S. tax dollars may not be used to fund or lobby for abortion. 

“[The] United States is a major funder for foreign assistance, particularly foreign health assistance. So the threat of withholding foreign assistance unless governments change their policies or laws regarding certain issues is always of concern," Huber said. "And we have heard from a variety of countries how this continues to be a lever used by the U.S. government."

“We’re not talking about using these sorts of levers over what most Americans would believe to be legitimate reasons regarding authentic human rights violations or things such as this," she continued. "We’re talking about foreign assistance being used as a lever for the promotion of ideological colonialism around these very sensitive topics, those topics where the U.S. had absolutely no business interfering in the internal affairs of that country.”

She also said that if a country refuses to make amendments to specific laws, the U.S. may use the visa-granting process or trade incentives. 

"Democracy is being … redefined to include these issues of ideological colonialism,” she asserted.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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