The Consequences of Ecuador's Abortion Ban

In Ecuador, abortion has been illegal under most circumstances for more than a century. Until recently, the ban was rarely enforced; although deeply stigmatized and often dangerous, abortion was widely considered a private matter. Although women sometimes died from botched procedures, they were rarely imprisoned for them.

That’s changed in the past decade. Since 2009, Ecuadorian prosecutors have initiated criminal proceedings against hundreds of women suspected of abortion, including eight in January 2019 alone. Women all over the country have been caught in the crackdown—in cities like Cuenca and Guayaquil, and in villages high in the Andes and deep in the rainforest. The prosecuted include teenagers and single mothers; a young woman who worked at an internet café in the lush coastal province of Esmereldas; another who sold ice pops on the streets of Quito; a mother from a town near the Colombian border who helped her 13-year-old daughter end a pregnancy that resulted from incest.

According to interviews with women and their lawyers, many of these cases are marked by serious violations of the rights of the accused, ranging from coerced confessions to manipulated evidence. Health care providers have effectively become extensions of law enforcement, reporting women showing signs of obstetric complications to the police. Some of these women had ended their own pregnancies, or sought out clandestine procedures. But other women, according to defense lawyers, were prosecuted and detained for unintentional miscarriages, sometimes on the basis of discredited forensic methods.