Ecuadorean lawmakers have approved a bill better protecting women against domestic violence and femicide while guaranteeing free access to public healthcare for those suffering complications during an abortion, a procedure still banned in the Andean country.
The bill was unanimously approved November 25, on the evening of the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, and dispatched to the government waiting for approval. However, Monica Aleman, a lawmaker from the center-left governing party, then made a request to modify the bill.
Aleman introduced several modifications, including the elimination of a reference to article 45 of the Constitution and article 149 of the Criminal Code, related to sentences for women who have abortions. The changes were finally approved Tuesday.
In Ecuador, 241 women were sentenced between January 2013 and May 2017, according to official estimates. Unsafe abortion is the third highest cause of death among women, more than 130 of whom died under such conditions last year.
Aleman said such references were unrelated to the initial purpose of the bill: preventing femicides. One woman is killed every 50 hours in Ecuador, she noted, simultaneously reassuring conservative lawmakers that the new legislation was not intended to promote abortion.
She also insisted that lawmakers would pass the bill as it was approved in a legislative commission: guaranteeing free access to public health services "with confidentiality and no discrimination" for women who have started an abortion on their own and suffer from complications.
The final version of the bill was approved with 81 votes in favor out of 137. The first version received 102 votes in favor.
In March 2015, femicide was recognized as a crime in the Penal Code of Ecuador, meaning that murders of women are no longer considered crimes of passion but crimes of gender discrimination, and viewed as an aggravating circumstance.
Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, with seven out of 10 countries counting the highest femicide rates in the region.
The high rate of impunity — among broader issues of security and inequality that make women vulnerable — helps normalize violence against women in these countries.
Outrage at the lack of justice and the failure of the state to take swift and firm action against the escalating number of femicides has led to protest movements, such as the "Ni Una Menos" movement in Argentina.
In recent years, 16 Latin American countries enacted legislation aimed at curbing the rate of femicide and bringing perpetrators to justice.