By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, June 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Honduras has no intention of lifting its total ban on abortion though it may soften its stance on the morning-after pill, the government says, shunning calls from human rights groups to get rid of an abortion law decried as draconian.
Abortion in the majority Catholic nation is a crime and is not allowed under any circumstances, including in cases of rape or incest, or when a women's life or foetus is in danger.
Elvia Ardon, a top official at the government's health ministry, said abortion was a "sensitive" issue in the Central American nation, noting that its conservative president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, and first lady, were both opposed.
Their views are backed by the country's influential Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups, who say abortion is a sin and that laws must protect unborn children.
"To decriminalise abortion, this is very difficult at least during this term ... at least during this government, because they are against abortion at all costs," Ardon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The government's term of office runs until 2022.
But she hinted at some possible softening when it comes to the morning-after pill, with Honduras currently the only Latin American nation with an absolute ban, even for rape victims.
Ardon, who called herself an evangelical opposed to abortion, said the onus was on lawmakers to propose any changes to the abortion law.
Currently there are no bills before parliament seeking to ease the abortion ban, she said.
Around 50,000 to 80,000 abortions occur each year in Honduras, local reproductive rights groups estimate.
The blanket ban on abortion means rape victims and other girls and women with unwanted pregnancies are often forced to seek unsafe backstreet abortions.
Ardon said teenagers who get abortions in "clandestine places" are known to come to hospitals in a "difficult" state.
More than 8,600 Honduran women were admitted to hospital in 2017 for complications from abortion or miscarriage, including uncontrolled bleeding, according to government figures.
Worldwide, unsafe abortions account for 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, says the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research rights group.
"Banning abortion does not stop it, but it forces women and girls to put their health and lives at risk to end pregnancies behind closed doors, in fear and desperation, and without medical care," Margaret Wurth, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
"Honduras' draconian law is leading to enormous suffering among women and girls and their families," Wurth said.
Honduras is one of only six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is completely banned.
High levels of sexual violence boost the number of unwanted pregnancies in a country where one in every four pregnancies occurs among teenagers.
After a 2009 health ministry decree, emergency contraception - or the morning-after pill - was also banned.
Ana Falope, a Honduran women's rights activist who is campaigning to legalise emergency contraception, said religious views and myths about the morning-after pill prevent access.
"For girls and women who are victims of sexual violence they have no options. Some pharmacies sell the pills in a clandestine way but it's very expensive for them," Falope said.
"Misinformation includes that emergency contraception causes infertility, cancer and an abortion," she said.
Ardon, who backs emergency contraception for rape survivors, said she was pushing to get the decree repealed and was hopeful the ban would be lifted. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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