Guatemalan Congress enacts severe abortion penalties on International Women’s Day

Guatemalan lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that would more than triple jail time for women convicted of receiving an abortion, ban same-sex marriage and prohibit teaching about sexual diversity in schools.

The bill, approved by an overwhelming majority of Guatemala’s unicameral legislature on International Women’s Day, needs only to be officially published to become law.

“The Guatemalan Congress should be focused on eradicating public corruption and punishing those who rape and abuse women and children, but instead they have chosen to force women who have been raped to endure more suffering,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), who was born in Guatemala.

“Time and time again they have proven to be on the wrong side of history, as they are doing now with their outrageous law to punish victims of abuse instead of their abusers,” added Torres.

Under the bill, criminal penalties for women who receive abortions would increase from three to 10 years, while doctors who perform abortions could spend up to 50 years in jail under the new law.

The bill also explicitly bans same-sex marriage and bans both public and private schools from teaching “policies or programs that tend to deviate [children’s] identity according to their sex at birth.”

The bill, first proposed in 2018, was moved through the Guatemalan Congress by President Alejandro Giammattei’s conservative allies.

Giammattei on Wednesday is due to declare Guatemala the “Ibero-american Pro-life Capital,” marking his 66th birthday and the kickoff of a regional “Ibero-american Congress for Life and Family.”

Local daily La Hora reported the Congress’s organizing group has links to evangelical churches in Mexico.

Guatemala’s rightward turn on women’s and gay rights comes as Latin America by and large has softened its traditionally conservative statutes on abortion and gay marriage.

Argentina legalized abortion in 2021, and the top courts in both Mexico and Colombia have ruled that abortion is a human right, forcing legislatures to adjust statutes.

Guatemala’s high-profile rollout of its new legislation lays bare a discord between the region’s traditionally conservative elites and growing socially liberal sentiment, particularly among the middle class.

Abortion legislation in Central America is by and large more restrictive than in other parts of the continent — Guatemala’s allowance for abortion to save a woman’s life is relatively liberal compared to outright bans in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

And same-sex marriage has also either been codified or implemented by court rulings for most of Latin America’s 660 million inhabitants.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the region’s most populous countries — Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia — all allow same-sex marriage.

In Central America, only Costa Rica allows same-sex marriage.

Tags Abortion Guatemala Norma Torres

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