In a despicable act last month the de facto Government of Honduras, through its Department of Health, issued the Acuerdo No. 2744, a normative that prohibits the use, promotion and distribution of emergency contraception pills, also known as “morning-after pills”.
This news follows a story that we posted last spring, when the Honduran Congress passed a bill outlawing emergency contraception (EC) in the country. After strong pressure from Honduran feminist groups and other social movements, the then President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales vetoed the bill because it breached human rights and the country’s Constitution.
President Zelaya was correct to veto the bill because, under a modern democracy that abides to the rule of law, a Government must respect human rights even if that is not the wish of the majority of Congress.
In June 2009, a Coup d’Etat ousted President Zelaya from office- a sad event for Latin American young democracies. Our partners in Honduras reported that for the Department of Health, the de facto Government appointed Mario Luis Noé Villafranca, a doctor that used to be the head of the Honduras Medical Association when the EC bill was discussed in Congress. In that capacity, Dr Noe Villafranca issued a note stating that EC was an abortive method; a conclusion that has not been found by any accurate medical research. Now in the Government, his personal views are being imposed to all the Honduran population.
In a country with sound institutions, the new normative should be declared void by a court. Being a human rights violation, even if the national constitutional court did not make such declaration, the case could be brought to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and subsequently to the Inter American Court on Human Rights, whose decisions are binding to most countries in the Americas, including Honduras. However, in a country led by a Government that seized power through a Coup D’Etat and curtailed civil liberties, all the other legal mechanisms to protect human rights become less reliable. Both institutions and civil society are often weakened by persecution, lowering their ability to make independent decisions and seek protection for human rights.
Indyra Mendoza, which with other feminist activists created the group Feministas en Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado (Feminists resisting against the Coup D’Etat) stresses that they do not recognize the de facto Government and the acts of the new Cabinet. Another Honduran feminist leader Blanca Dole (watch video of her discussing the EC issue in Honduras here), also stated that the suspension of civil liberties put women’s physical integrity at risk (“En esta situación de suspensión de garantías pone en peligro nuestra integridad física.”).
The events in Honduras show how the lack of respect to democratic principles and the rule of law can affect women’s rights and health. While we urge the de facto Government to review its new normative on EC, we also hope for democracy and the rule of law to be soon reinstated in Honduras. Last week, after the US engaged in the negotiations between the current and ousted presidents, a deal was set between the parts. Under the agreement, the Honduran Congress will soon decide if President Zelaya will be reinstated to power.
Denise Hirao is the Senior Program Officer for Latin America at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Read her bio here.