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Honduran president ends ban on emergency contraception, making it widely available

Honduran President Xiomara Castro signed a new executive document Wednesday night that will allow open access to emergency contraception.
Office of the Honduran Presidency
Honduran President Xiomara Castro signed a new executive document Wednesday night that will allow open access to emergency contraception.

Women's rights activists in Honduras are celebrating a major victory, after President Xiomara Castro announced that her government will lift its near-total ban on the emergency contraception pill.

"Having access to PAE is life-changing for the women in Honduras, especially considering the alarming rates of violence," Jinna Rosales of the advocacy group Strategy Group for PAE — the medicine is known as PAE, for Píldora Anticonceptiva de Emergencia — told NPR.

"With a total abortion ban, PAE is often our only option here – it being accessible to all will save lives," the group said via email.

Castro announced the reversal Wednesday night, in the final hours of International Women's Day. As she undid the policy, Castro noted that the World Health Organization says the pill is not "abortive."

The WHO's policy recommendation states, "All women and girls at risk of an unintended pregnancy have a right to access emergency contraception and these methods should be routinely included within all national family planning programs."

Legalization will undo a 2009 ban

For years, Honduras was the only nation in the Americas to have an absolute ban on the sale or use of emergency contraception, also known as morning-after or "Plan B" pills. It also prohibits abortion in all cases.

Honduras moved to ban emergency contraception in 2009, as the country went through political and social upheaval. Its supreme court affirmed the ban in 2012.

After Castro became the country's first female president, Honduras slightly eased its stance on the medicine. But when Minister of Health José Manuel Matheu announced that policy shift last fall, critics said i didn't go far enough, as the medicine would only be made legal in cases of rape.

At the time, Matheu said the pill didn't qualify as a method of contraception. But on Wednesday night, he joined Castro at her desk to sign a new executive agreement with her, opening the path to emergency contraception.

Activists called on Bad Bunny to help

Groups in Honduras that pushed for open access to emergency contraception include Strategy Group for PAE, or GEPAE, which has been working with the U.S.-based Women's Equality Center.

Due to its illegal status, "PAE was sporadically available through underground networks," Rosales said, "but access was very limited given stigma, lack of information, high prices, and lack of access in more rural areas."

When Puerto Rican rapper and pop star Bad Bunny toured Honduras, GEPAE used eye-catching billboards to call on the artist behind the hit "Me Porto Bonito" — which references the Plan B pill — to urge Honduran leaders to legalize emergency contraception.

The group Centro de Derechos de Mujeres, the Center for Women's Rights, welcomed the news, saying through social media, "Our rights must not remain the bargaining chip of governments!"

Violence against women in Honduras has long been at a crisis level. According to the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, Honduras had the highest rate of femicide of any country in the region in 2021, the most recent year tabulated on its website.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.