Honduran Lawmakers Seek Permanent Bans on Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

On Thursday 28 January, the Honduran legislature passed a constitutional reform that will make it nearly impossible to reverse existing hard-line bans on abortion and same-sex marriage. Previously, all constitutional amendments needed a two-thirds vote of the legislature in order to take effect. However, the new decree will now require a three-quarters super-majority to change two specific constitutional articles, which prohibit abortion and same-sex marriage under any circumstances. Currently, only a veto from President Juan Orlando Hernández can stop the reform from becoming permanent law and subsequently eliminating reproductive rights and marriage equality in Honduras.

The predominately Catholic nation has a staunchly conservative majority, which referred to the constitutional amendment as a “shield against abortion.” As stated by Mario Pérez, a lawmaker with the ruling right-wing party of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the change will create a “constitutional lock” to prevent any future moderations of the abortion or same-sex marriage law. Essentially, the draconian legislation seeks to inhibit the legalization of both practices by making it harder to change the two constitutional articles. “What they did was set [these articles] in stone because we can never reform them if 96 votes are needed [out of 128],” opposition Congresswoman Doris Gutiérrez told AFP News Agency. While many religious groups have applauded the constitutional reform, numerous human rights organizations have spoken out about its severe ramifications. Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch experts condemned the move, saying in a statement: “This [measure] is a grave violation of the human rights of women, girls, and LGBT people.”

Since 1982, abortion has been constitutionally banned in Honduras. It is illegal in all circumstances, including in the case of rape, incest, or when there is a life-threatening danger to the mother or the fetus. The country’s criminal code imposes three to six-year prison sentences for women who undergo abortions and medical professionals who provide them. Honduras also prohibits the use of emergency contraceptive pills, which can help prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, birth control failure, or rape. Additionally, Honduras forbids marriage between people of the same sex, including same-sex marriages contracted in other countries. The 2005 constitutional amendment solidified this ban on marriage equality, limiting “valid” marriage to a biological male and female. The nation also prohibits adoption by same-sex couples.

By seeking to permanently and comprehensively ban abortion and same-sex marriage, Honduran lawmakers are perpetuating the high levels of violence and discrimination that women, girls, and LGBT people already experience in society. As reported by the Latin America Working Group, sexuality and gender-based violence in Honduras ranks amongst the highest in the world. What is more, the majority of crimes against women, girls, and LBGT people continue to be targeted and remain largely in impunity.

The constitutional reform does nothing to protect these vulnerable populations, as its supporters claim; rather, it will severely harm these people for generations to come. Namely, further restricting and criminalizing abortion will do little to prevent people from ending unwanted pregnancies, and it will only force them to put their health and lives at risk to end pregnancies without access to medical care and in fear of prosecution. As the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls reports, an estimated 51,000 to 82,000 unsafe abortions occur each year in Honduras, despite the restrictive abortion laws and criminal penalties.

With respect to same-sex marriage, the constitutional amendment further entrenches homophobic societal attitudes and sends a message to the public that people can be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. By permanently denying same-sex couples access to marriage and adoption, the Honduran government is also violating regional human rights standards that prohibit arbitrarily treating same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples. The total ban on abortion and same-sex marriage jeopardizes a range of human rights that must be recognized and supported in the country. It is thus imperative that President Juan Orlando Hernández vetoes the discriminatory reform and protects his people from its dire consequences.