A Girl Who Changed the World, A Victory for Women Everywhere

In 2009, a girl from Peru named L.C. demanded justice.

Two years earlier, she needed an abortion—had a legal right to abortion—and was denied, suffering irrevocable harm. L.C. wanted to hold an entire government accountable, her doctors responsible, for failing her just when she needed their help most.

L.C. contacted a reproductive rights group in Peru called the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights. That organization called us, largely because of our landmark victory on behalf of another victim of Peru’s oppressive abortion laws. We vowed to defend L.C.’s human and legal rights, and bring her case all the way to the United Nations.

This month, we won.

The U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women condemned Peru for violating L.C.’s human rights when she asked for and was denied a lawful abortion. A groundbreaking precedent, it’s the first decision by a U.N. committee demanding that a country protect women’s health and human rights by changing its abortion laws.

And it’s the first time the U.N. has called the denial of legal abortion what it is: discrimination.

The facts of L.C.’s case are horrifying: She was eleven when her life changed forever. A man in her Lima neighborhood raped her. Repeatedly. For years. L.C. was 13 when she found out she was pregnant—and discovered that Peru’s laws did not allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Scared, ashamed, hopeless, she flung herself off a neighbor’s roof and suffered a crippling spinal injury. Doctors could have fixed some of the damage and greatly improved L.C.’s future, but the operation likely would’ve terminated the pregnancy.

So the doctors refused.

Peru’s law is clear: A woman has the right to an abortion when it prevents “grave and permanent harm to her health.” L.C.’s doctors broke that law.

To what end? L.C. ultimately miscarried, and by then, surgery couldn’t heal her. L.C. is a quadriplegic today—a victim first at the hands of a monster, and a second time by the powers of an ideological government.

The U.N.’s resounding affirmation of a woman’s right to abortion did more than demand that Peru change its abortion laws so victims of rape and incest can get an abortion. The U.N. will require Peru to establish a system that ensures legal abortion services are truly accessible. And the state has to guarantee that a woman can get an abortion when not having one threatens her life or well-being. 

The repercussions of this victory cannot be overstated. Women of Peru have vital new protections, and are one step closer to the health, equality, dignity, and reproductive autonomy that all women deserve.

For the 25 percent of women across the globe who live in countries where abortion is totally prohibited, or nearly so, the U.N.’s ruling offers a beacon of hope—signaling a shift in thinking that’s gathering momentum as governments and courts of international law worldwide increasingly recognize reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right.

The work, though, is far from done. L.C.’s tragedy unfolded despite our previous victory in Peru, and despite the laws on its books that should have safeguarded the very rights that L.C. was denied.

The Center for Reproductive Rights will closely monitor the Peruvian government’s response to this ruling—and we will hold them accountable for fulfilling the requirements of the U.N.’s decision.

Progress on international fronts requires a relentless effort for each incremental victory followed by an unyielding determination to see new laws impact every reach of their jurisdiction. But if L.C. has taught us anything, it’s that courage, strength, and fortitude can win out in the end.

And that, sometimes, one girl can change the world.

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