President Xiomara Castro of Honduras signed an executive order on Wednesday that lifted a longtime ban on emergency contraceptive pills, delivering on a campaign promise for a policy change that was sought by feminist groups for years.
Ms. Castro, who signed the order on International Women’s Day, said on Twitter that the emergency contraceptive pill was “part of women’s reproductive rights, and not abortive,” citing the World Health Organization.
The order was celebrated by human rights and feminist organizations, and it was a major victory for Ms. Castro, who was elected the first female president of Honduras in 2021 and campaigned on overturning the ban on emergency contraceptive pills, among other issues.
But, in a country that is heavily Catholic, Ms. Castro’s order still found resistance.
Mirtha Gutiérrez, Honduras’s human rights secretary, said that the president’s order was a “great step” and that the Honduran government would continue to do more for women.
“We believe as a government that it is important to continue advancing in the rights of women,” Ms. Gutiérrez said. “This is the beginning of a long joint effort with the women of Honduras.”
Honduras was previously the only nation in the world known to have a blanket legal ban on emergency contraception pills, according to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, a policy research group. The ban was enacted in 2009. Honduras is still among a few Latin American countries that prohibit abortion under any circumstances.
Human Rights Watch, an international organization, said that Ms. Castro’s order “is particularly important in a context where abortion is illegal in all circumstances and constitutes a step forward in the recognition of the reproductive rights of pregnant people.”
Regina Fonseca, a feminist activist and a co-founder of the Women’s Rights Center in Honduras, said the president’s order was “an enormous triumph” that was 13 years in the making.
“How many girls had their wings cut because they had to experience maternity early?” Ms. Fonseca said. “It’s so great that we have this now and that future generations will have better opportunities than the ones we have had these past few years.”
But not all Hondurans were supportive of the president’s order, and some weren’t even aware of it. In the country’s capital of Tegucigalpa, near the Hospital Escuela, the largest assistance center in Honduras, few people knew of the approval.
Sandra Sierra, 30, a domestic worker, said she opposed the president’s order.
“It is dangerous for their health,” Ms. Sierra said of the pills’ effects. While emergency contraceptive pills may cause side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe to use when taken as instructed.
Ana María Cáceres, 42, a street vendor and a mother of three children, was accompanying her 20-year-old daughter to a pregnancy consultation when she learned of the announcement. Her daughter is six months pregnant with her second child.
“As long as there has been a rape, it’s fine because there are women who, if they’ve been abused, don’t want to have a child,” Ms. Cáceres said. “But when it’s like that for pleasure, no.”
The use of emergency contraception in Honduras has been long opposed by major Christian congregations, which have argued that such pills could terminate an established pregnancy.
Those groups have cited the label of Plan B One-Step, a popular emergency contraceptive in the United States. The pill’s package says it is possible for the medication to stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. However, scientific evidence has not supported that idea; in December, the F.D.A. announced that it would clarify information on widely used emergency contraceptive pills to say that they do not stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The agency explained that such products cannot be described as abortion pills.
The wording change by the F.D.A. came months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion, and amid concerns from abortion rights advocates that conservative states could limit or ban the use of morning-after pills.
Before the ban on emergency contraceptive pills was lifted this week in Honduras, such medications still were openly sold in some pharmacies in major cities for about $10 per dose, but women in poor and rural areas did not have easy access to them, according to women’s rights advocates.
The Center for Reproductive Rights Latin America and Caribbean Program said on Twitter on Thursday that the order was a “positive advance” for Honduras, but the group also called on federal officials to create a concrete implementation plan of the order and to guarantee distribution and accessibility.
The center said having access to emergency contraception pills was especially important in Honduras, which has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy among Latin American countries. Sexual violence rates are also high there.
Ms. Fonseca said her organization would continue to call on the Honduran government to pass legislation to protect women from sexual violence and to provide postpartum care.
“There’s more work to be done,” Ms. Regina said. “But this was fundamental.”
Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.