Today, women along with the LGBTQ+ community is taking big leaps in every field all over the world, but in Latin American countries some laws introduced by the governments are holding them back from living a life of freedom and independence.
One such attack on the sexual and reproductive rights of women has been made in Honduras. On 21st January 2021, the Honduran legislature passed a constitutional reform that will make it extremely difficult or almost impossible to amend any part of the hardline pre-existing law from 1982 and 2005.
Earlier according to the Honduran constitution, all the amendments required a two-thirds majority of the congress for the change to take effect. However, the new mandate will now require a three-quarter supermajority to amend two specific constitutional articles which prohibit abortion outright and same-sex marriage under any circumstance. The Bill was passed by voting, in which 128 members of the Honduran congress participated where 88 members voted in favour of the Bill, 28 voted against it and 7 members abstained from voting. This Bill still needs a second vote in the unicameral legislature next year before it comes into force.
If the second voting is also in favour, the use of veto from President Juan Hernández can still put a stop to the reform from becoming a constitutional law and consequently suppress the possibility of there being sexual and reproductive rights as well as marriage equality in the country one day.
Mario Perez, the lawmaker of the right-wing explained during a debate that the change will create a “Constitutional Lock” and prevent any amendments in the future to the abortion and same-sex marriage law.
Abortion has been constitutionally disallowed in Honduras, since 1982. It is constitutionally illegal in all state of affairs which includes cases of incest, rape and when the mother’s or the child’s life is in danger.
The Honduran constitution also interdicts emergency contraception, which can prevent women from unwanted pregnancies in cases of unprotected sex, rape, or incest or when contraception fails. Honduras’ criminal code inflicts three to six years of imprisonment for the woman who undergoes abortions and medical professionals who render the service.
Honduras is principally a conservative catholic nation, whose people have hailed this constitutional reform as ‘a shield against abortion’.
The 2005 Constitutional Amendment does not recognize marriage between people of the same gender. This amendment also includes same-sex marriages contracted in other countries under Article 112. Same-sex couples and households having same-sex couples are not eligible for the same treatment and legal protections as heterosexual couples.
The amendment limits the word ‘valid marriage’ to the biological male and female couples. Article 116 of the Honduran constitution also prohibits adoption by the same-sex couple.
The Honduran government claims that 'the constitutional reform does everything to protect the women of the country', rather it will gravely affect the lives of generations to come. Criminalizing and imposing a ban on abortion will do no good in stopping unwanted pregnancies. This ban will not only persuade women to undergo abortions illegally by jeopardizing their health and life, without any proper access to medical care but they will also flee to other countries where abortion is legal. Despite all the restrictive abortion laws and criminal codes, roughly fifty-one thousand to eighty-two thousand unsafe/illegal abortions happen every year in Honduras, according to the report by the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. The reform misleadingly refers to Article 4(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life. It has been made clear that article 4(1) does not recognize an absolute right to life before birth and the embryo cannot be treated as a human being for the same.
During a press conference in 2018, President Juan Orlando Hernández said: “Personally as a Christian, I am against the marriage of persons of the same sex. It is the judiciary that according to the constitution rules on it. People should be treated with respect and this issue is very important.” Though the 2005 Amendment did not recognize same-sex marriages, the rights of the LGBTQ community is protected on paper under Article 321 of the Penal Code. Now, what is on paper versus the ground reality are like two sides of the same coin in Honduras today. It is very important to highlight that Honduras along with many other Latin American countries is legally obliged to follow the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling of 2018, which held same-sex marriage as a human right to be protected by the American Convention of Human Rights.
By putting a permanent and complete ban on abortion and same-sex marriage, the Honduras government is adding fuel to the already intensely burning fire of violence and discrimination that women and the LGBTQ+ community already face in society. As suggested by a report, Honduras occupies one of the top rungs when it comes to gender-based and sexual violence. The majority of these crimes are against girls, women and the LGBTQ+ community, this reform also promotes an ingrained homophobic attitude and normalises treating people differently because of their sexual orientation.
The pending reform signifies an effort to stop the much-anticipated progress that has been awaited not only across Latin American countries but also the whole world regarding sexual and reproductive rights and marriage equality.