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Abortion in Ecuador: A Matter of Female Autonomy and Social Justice

For many years, the Ecuadorian congress has considered legalizing abortion in cases of rape, incest, and fetal malformation. Currently, abortion in all cases remains illegal in the country. Anyone involved with the medical procedure, including the woman who undergoes an abortion, can face significant penalties, including prison. However, the Constitution of Ecuador explicitly values secularism and social justice, which are in direct opposition to the popular Catholic pro-life viewpoint. [1] Therefore, the direct and immediate legalization of abortion is compelled at a constitutional level.

In September of 2019, the congress had the opportunity to legalize abortion for cases of incest, sexual violation, and fetal malformation, but the congress was divided. Unable to come to a unified conclusion, they rejected the reformation.2 The argument that strongly influenced the outcome of the debate was presented by predominantly Catholic religious groups, who stated:

“Most of the Ecuadorian population is Catholic, so Catholic values such as the sanctity of life, family, marriage, and the centrality of God should be considered in the debate of abortion. Only God has power over life since it is a divine gift that should be respected from conception. Therefore, allowing abortion, in any case, is a crime that will destabilize the values of society.” [1]

This argument is insufficient to oppose abortion, for it only makes value judgments and does not consider the impacts of incest, rape, and involuntary pregnancy on Ecuadorian women. Six of 10 women have been victims of violence in Ecuador,3 and 28,555 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were sexually assaulted and impregnated between 2011 and 2019.4 Most of these cases were incest, which is not a crime in Ecuador [4]. These incidents showcase the lack of objective and scientific rhetoric in the Ecuadorian abortion debate.

Until now, Ecuador’s congress has respected the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion because of "Modus Vivendi," a legal agreement which guarantees the participation of the church in government issues [5]. Rather than guarding the constitutional rights of Ecuadorian citizens, Congress continues to give pregnant women and girls no choice besides motherhood and imprison providers who perform abortions. Under these circumstances, one possible solution is to present a legal challenge in the Constitutional Court, a group of individuals with the jurisdiction to interpret constitutional rights, similar to the Supreme Court of the United States, which itself legalized abortion in the US in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade. They will be able to resolve the debate on whether abortion — in the cases of incest, rape, and fetal malformation — should be legalized, as indicated by the binding bioethical principles and human rights recognized in the Constitution of Ecuador.


  1. Archive of the National Assembly of Ecuador (2019). Proposal of the episcopal conference. Asamblea Constituyente del Ecuador (2008). Constitución de la República del Ecuador.

  2. Daniels, J. P. (2019, September 18). Clashes erupt after Ecuador fails to decriminalize abortion for rape victims.

  3. Barreiro. M, Camacho. G, Larrea. C, Maldonado. M, Ospina. P, Samaniego (2013). Atlas de desigualdades socioeconómicas del Ecuador, secretaría nacional de planificación y desarrollo. Retrieved from

  4. Fundación desafío Ecuador (2019). Rape and Pregnancy analysis. Retrieved from

  5. Modus Vivendi Agreement (1937, July 24). Modus Vivendi que restablece las relaciones entre Ecuador y la Santa Sede. Retrieved from

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