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  • Human Rights Research Center

Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ and Anti-abortion Laws in Central America

February 22, 2024

LGBTQ+ rights in Central America has always been a complex and evolving landscape. A few countries in the region, including Costa Rica and Mexico, have made significant strides in recognizing and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, such as legalizing same-sex marriage and implementing anti-discrimination measures. While other Central American nations (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize) do have anti-discrimination laws in place, same sex unions and marriages are still banned for those part of the LGBTQ+ community. Even with anti-discrimination legislation, individuals who are openly LGBTQ+ in Central America, continue to face discrimination and violence due to the conservative attitudes, cultural norms, and religious influences of the region.


To be openly gay in these areas is to risk your own safety and livelihood. With a lack of legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, instances of violence by the hands of authority, peers, and even family have been reported. Oftentimes, when non-binary individuals report instances of sexual violence to police, they are laughed at and dismissed. For instance, El Salvador and Honduras have passed hate crime laws, yet not one person has been convicted of these charges despite many reports of violence. Police authority may also be the ones demanding sexual favors or assaulting these individuals as well. With no support from authority, these individuals look to seek asylum in relatively more enlightened countries such as the United States. However, due to US policies, seeking asylum is nearly impossible.


Additionally, those who identify as transgender face even more discrimination and violence due to the lack of anti-discrimination laws for gender identity. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are some of the most dangerous countries to be transgender in. El Salvador, specifically, still holds the highest trans murder rate in the world (at around 10,000 per million), even though their homicide rate has significantly dropped the past couple years. The InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights has even criticized these governments, requesting reparations and more action in protecting the rights of these populations. Even with these statistics and criticism, Central American governments continue to perpetuate these violent behaviors by refusing to accept responsibility, denying implementation of trans protection laws, and undermining cutting funds from public institutions that seek to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Guatemala, for example, attempted to pass the Law for Protection of Life and Family in 2022 which not only criminalized marriage for LGBTQ+ individuals, but also fully criminalized abortion. Luckily however, it was not passed due to heavy questioning from both the United Nations and the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights.


Much like the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, Central America’s religious attitudes have caused the region to adopt stringent anti-abortion laws. El Salvador, for example, has been known for having one of the strictest abortion laws globally, criminalizing the procedure under all circumstances, even in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is at risk. All these laws have subjected women to legal consequences and, at times, unsafe abortion practices. Despite international calls for human rights reforms, the legal landscape regarding abortion rights in Central America has been slow to change.


The oppressive abortion laws in Central America not only violate women's reproductive rights but also exacerbate the hardships faced by those subjected to sexual violence. In El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where an absolute ban on abortion persists, women endure severe legal consequences, including lengthy prison sentences, even in cases of rape or when their lives are at risk. El Salvador, specifically, goes to extreme lengths by convicting women of murder and using stillbirths and miscarriages as evidence against them. The abortion laws in the neighboring countries while more lenient, are still very restrictive: with Guatemala and Belize only allowing it in the case of fatal maternal danger, and Panama allowing it in the case of rape and incest. The situation is dire, especially for young girls in Nicaragua, where alarming levels of sexual violence (6,750 girls ages 10-14 are victims of sexual violence, with 1,300 becoming pregnant) leave them with limited choices—either risking their lives and potential imprisonment with unsafe abortions or enduring the traumatic experience of carrying the child of their sexual offender. Despite international advocacy for human rights reforms, the region's legal stance on abortion remains resistant to change, perpetuating injustice and endangering the well-being of countless women and girls. While it may be difficult to advocate for complete policy changes in these regions, we can continue to advocate for greater health funding that will help in lowering the amount of unintended pregnancies. Studies show that a $1.33 increase per capita annually is enough to provide sexual and reproductive services for every woman in need. Furthermore, this study shows that this increase in funding would decrease unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal death by roughly 60% each. Despite the difficulty in implementing more lenient laws surrounding abortion, international communities should continue to encourage the implementation of more progressive abortion laws as well as demand that laws convicting sexual offenders be stricter.


All in all, the landscape of LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights in Central America remains fraught with challenges and injustices, exacerbated by conservative religious attitudes. While some countries in the region have taken significant steps towards recognizing and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, others continue to uphold discriminatory laws and perpetuate violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The lack of legal protections and the prevalence of discrimination make it dangerous for LGBTQ+ individuals to be openly themselves, forcing many to seek asylum in countries with more progressive attitudes. The situation is equally grim for women facing restrictive abortion laws, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where even cases of rape or threats to maternal health lead to severe legal consequences. Despite all of this, international communities must persist in advocating for human rights reforms, challenging oppressive laws, and supporting initiatives that promote greater health funding to address unintended pregnancies.



  1. Human Rights Watch. (2020, October 7). Anti-LGBT Persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras.

  2. Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide. (n.d.). Trans Murder Monitoring.

  3. Igarapé Institute. (n.d.). Homicide Monitor.

  4. The Guardian. (2021, June 29). Honduran state responsible for trans woman's court.

  5. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). (n.d.). A Regressive Wave for Women in Central America.

  6. Ipas. (n.d.). Marking 10 Years of Nicaragua's Abortion Ban, Ipas Releases Study on Resulting Epidemic of Child Mothers.

  7. Guttmacher Institute. (n.d.). Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health in Latin America and the Caribbean.


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