Access to EC in Latin America Takes Center Stage at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

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Center for Reproductive Rights Participates In Public Hearing Addressing Restrictions on Emergency Contraception at the 149th Period of Sessions of the Commission
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(PRESS RELEASE) Healthcare professionals, lawyers, policymakers, and reproductive health advocates are gathering today in Washington, D.C. to testify on emergency contraception restrictions in Latin America, specifically in Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Honduras. The Center for Reproductive Rights is a lead presenter at the hearing hosted at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the main human rights monitoring body for the Americas.

In Latin America, court decisions granting personhood to fertilized eggs have been responsible for extreme restrictions on access to emergency contraception, which have been widely recognized by international and regional human rights bodies, including the Committee Against Torture, as violations of a woman’s ability to exercise her fundamental rights.

Said Alejandra Cárdenas, legal advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Latin American countries have for too long used religious ideology to restrict, and even ban, women from accessing safe and effective birth control.

“These countries must stop misconstruing so-called “personhood” laws, which already place women’s lives and health at grave risk, to undermine women’s ability to prevent unintended pregnancies.

“We urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to condemn restrictions on emergency contraception for what they really are— violations of women’s human rights.”

In addition to the Center, organizations represented at the hearing include CLADEM Honduras, Colectiva por el derecho de decidir, DEMUS, Frente Ecuatoriano por la Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Derechos Reproductivos, Planned Parenthood Global and PROMSEX (Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos).

Although inaccurate reports describe emergency contraception as an “abortion pill,” emergency contraception is simply a higher dose of the same medication in typical birth control pills, and works by preventing an egg from being fertilized.

Emergency contraception is not only an essential medicine according to the World Health Organization, but medical experts worldwide have also deemed it the only method of preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex or when routine contraception fails. This is particularly critical in areas where regular birth control can be difficult to obtain—especially in Latin American countries like Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador where up to half of the sexually-active young women have experienced challenges obtaining modern contraceptives.

Access to emergency contraception is also critical for victims of rape, since sexual violence is all too common in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Ecuador, at least 10 adolescents between 12 and 14 were raped every day in 2010. Not surprisingly, teen pregnancy in Ecuador has increased by 74 percent in the last decade, given restricted access to emergency contraception.

“Women’s rights and scientific evidence must be placed ahead of politics,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights affirm all women’s rights to reproductive health care as fundamental, including their ability to access emergency contraception.”