Peruvian Women Denied Legal Abortions

Therapeutic (to preserve the life and health of the mother) and eugenic (in the even of a non-viable fetus) abortions are legal in Peru, but you wouldn’t know it by living there. Men, women, and doctors alike share ignorance or confusion about the legality of certain types of abortion, and as a result women are suffering and dying needlessly.

Human Rights Watch recently published My Rights, My Right to Know: Lack of Access to Therapeutic Abortion in Peru. The 52-page report examines a system with vague laws and regulations, legislation passed yet ignored by federal government, fear of criminalization and malpractice, lack of public funds for the procedure, lack of protocols on any level, and exceptionally low awareness levels about the criteria for a legal abortion.

It also tells the sad tales of three women who were denied a procedure they desperately needed.

“M.L.” was 31 years old and pregnant with her second child. An ultra-sound at 30 weeks revealed a malformation. Eventually she was told that the fetus had no brain and no bladder and would likely die in utero. Devastated, she asked for a therapeutic abortion, but was told by the hospital that it was illegal. In fact, legislation legalizing abortion “in cases of sexual violence, non-consented artificial insemination, and fetal abnormalities incompatible with life” was passed by Peruvian Congress in 1989, but was never made widely known by the Executive government. Neither the doctors nor M.L. knew it was an option.

She considered an illegal procedure, but she and her husband decided that it was too dangerous. Besides, they had no way of raising the $700 fee. At 38 weeks she returned to the hospital with contractions and was given medication to delay labor. By the time her full term was up, the fetus had died inside her and had to be removed by Cesarean.

After the trauma M.L. suffered severe anxiety and depression. She said

“I wouldn’t want this to happen to any other woman; it’s something horrible that happened to me…. I dropped down to 40 kilos (about 88 pounds). People don’t know how much one suffers [in this situation]; they don’t want to know the truth about that kind of suffering.”

“K.L.” was a 17 year old girl who, at 14 weeks, discovered the fetus she carried was anencephalic. Anencephaly is a birth defect where the brain and spinal cord fail to develop and the child either dies in utero or a few days after birth. It also jeopardizes both the mental and physical health of the mother. Her physician recommended ending the pregnancy. K.L. and her family prepared for this and returned to the hospital, where they were told they needed the consent of the hospital’s director, who then flatly refused the procedure. She carried the child to term and when she gave birth (three weeks late) she was forced her to breast feed for four days before the child died.

K.L. required psychiatric treatment following her ordeal.

The final case is the saddest. “L.C.” was raped repeatedly for several months at age fourteen. She told no one, not even when she discovered she was pregnant. Instead, according to her mother, she threw herself from the roof of her family’s home. The suicide attempt failed, however it did injure her spinal cord and render her a quadriplegic. In the hospital, her mother first learned of the rape.

L.C. and her family requested a legal abortion so that she may undergo an operation on her spinal cord that might restore some mobility. The request was denied on the grounds that it was illegal. When her mother protested and said that a medical committee could review and approve the abortion, they met with resistance and unexplained delays. When the window of opportunity for the spinal surgery had passed, a review came through denying the abortion on the grounds that the fetus didn’t negatively effect L.C.’s health. She later miscarried in the hospital, when there was no longer anything that could be done to restore her mobility.

International human rights groups have criticized Peru for their lack of reproductive rights, but it is unclear how this criticism is being received by Peruvian officials. Ii can understand confusion and fear on the part of medical personnel, but I cannot understand the feet-dragging on the part of the government that allows this to continue.

Abortions are not more rare in Peru. They are simply more deadly. As in all countries, that number of abortions remains constant whether it is legal or not. What rises are simply mortality rates and mental anguish.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: