Honduras Supreme Court Upholds Absolute Ban on Emergency Contraception, Opens Door to Criminalize Women and Medical Professionals

(PRESS RELEASE) The Honduras Supreme Court has upheld the country’s absolute ban on emergency contraception, which would criminalize the sale, distribution, and use of  the “morning-after pill” — imposing punishment for offenders equal to that of obtaining or performing an abortion, which in Honduras is completely restricted.

“By banning and criminalizing emergency contraception, Honduras is telling the world it would rather imprison the women of its country than provide them with safe and effective birth control,” said Luisa Cabal, director of international legal programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s decision from the Honduras Supreme Court blatantly disregards women’s fundamental reproductive rights and completely ignores the respected medical opinion of experts around the globe. It will cause significant harm in the lives countless women and doctors across the country.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been working with local and international women’s rights groups to fight this ban on emergency contraception since it was first passed by the Honduran Congress in April 2009. Then-President José Manuel Zelaya was successfully urged to veto the ban a month after it was passed — immediately making the issue a matter before the Supreme Court.

However, following the country’s June 2009 coup d’état, the de facto minister of health issued an administrative regulation in October 2009 banning emergency contraception, despite not yet having a ruling from the Supreme Court that would allow criminal enforcement of the ban.

Nearly three years after the ban was vetoed by President Zelaya, today’s ruling now allows the Honduran Congress to impose the previously proposed criminal punishments on any medical professionals who distribute and sell emergency contraception and any woman who uses or attempts to use the medication to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

Currently, anyone who performs an abortion in Honduras can be sentenced anywhere from three to 10 years in prison, depending on if the woman consents or if violence and intimidation is a factor. Women who seek an abortion face three to six years in prison. With today’s decision, simply being caught with an emergency contraceptive pill would be considered an abortion attempt.

While there has significant anti-choice efforts to restrict access to emergency contraception worldwide and specifically in Central and Latin America—including in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru—Honduras’ ban is the most sweeping so far. These extreme bans on emergency contraception have been widely recognized by international and regional human rights bodies, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as violations of a woman’s ability to exercise her fundamental rights.

Medical studies around the globe have deemed emergency contraception a safe, effective method of birth control after unprotected sex or when routine contraception fails. Unlike false reports that 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.

Access to emergency contraception can be a critical tool in preventing unwanted pregnancies — especially in countries where regular birth control can be difficult to obtain. Up to half of the sexually-active young women in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have experienced challenges obtaining modern contraceptives — a statistic that is much higher for single women than married women and especially high among adolescent women.