Haiti: women protest 1835 abortion law

Some 30 Haitian women held a protest in front of the Ministry for the Feminine Condition and Women's Rights (MCFDF) in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 26 to demand the decriminalization of abortion. Under Article 262 of Haiti's Criminal Code, in effect since 1835, the sentence for a woman having an abortion and for anyone who helps her is life in prison. The law is apparently never enforced, but because of it all abortions in Haiti are clandestine and unregulated. The country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the Americas, with 530 deaths for each 100,000 births; 100 of these deaths follow abortions. In a 2012 survey of 352 women who had abortions since 2007, 40% reported having complications. "Criminalization isn't a solution," the protesters, mostly young women, chanted. "We want to be educated sexually to be able to decide." The demonstration was sponsored by a number of women's rights organizations, including the Initiative for an Equitable Development in Haiti (Ideh), Kay Fanm ("Women's House") and Haitian Women's Solidarity (SOFA).

The Sept. 26 protest was in observance of the annual Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, which is officially observed two days later on Sept. 28, but the issue had gained additional attention in Haiti because of a Sept. 20 article in the French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur. According to the article, in May 2013 a group of doctors, feminists and religious leaders adopted a resolution for decriminalization after a colloquium on abortion organized by Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP). "Haiti must remove the vagueness existing currently in its legislation on abortion by adopting a law that abrogates Article 262 of the Criminal Code of 1835," the resolution read. However, it has been kept secret and hasn't been presented to the Parliament for legislative action. (Le Nouvel Observateur, Sept. 20; AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 25, Sept. 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 28.