A Tale of Extraordinary Courage: Interview with K.L.

17-year-old K.L. took on the country Peru for enabling officials to force her to carry a fatally-impaired fetus to term.

When our client K.L. was seventeen years old, she found out that she was pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. Even though abortion is legal in Peru for therapeutic reasons, K.L. was illegally denied access to an abortion by the hospital director, and was compelled to carry the fetus to term. She was forced to breast-feed for the four days the infant survived. Her case, K.L. v. Peru, was brought before the United Nations Human Rights Committee by the Center in partnership with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) and the Counseling Center for the Defense of Women’s Rights (DEMUS). K.L. won the case, marking the first time an international human rights body has held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services.

Lilian Sepúlveda, Legal Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center, spoke with K.L., who is now 22 years old and living in Madrid, where she is studying to become an engineer.

Q: How did you become involved in this case?
K.L: When I was 17 years old I found out I was pregnant. At first, I was planning on having the child. But when I was 3 months pregnant, I had a doctor’s appointment and an ultrasound. They didn’t explain anything to me; they just told me that I needed to make an appointment for another day. I had to wait until a week later. At this appointment, the doctor suggested that I have an abortion. He said that it wasn’t worth it to continue with the pregnancy since the baby wouldn’t live. I had to get approval from the hospital director in order to have the abortion. I was waiting and waiting. He finally said that I couldn’t get an abortion because it was illegal. This was at a state hospital.

Q: How did you feel when you found out about the anencephaly?
K.L: The truth is, I couldn’t believe it. I was very sad to find out about it. I felt very alone and confused. The truth for everyone—my whole family— was very heavy. I had many problems, but finally decided that I wanted to have an abortion.

Q: How did you get involved in the legal case?
K.L: My objective was to have the hospital allow me to have an abortion. I went to a TV station and I spoke with a journalist who told me that [by going on] TV, there would be people interested in my case who would be willing to help me. I thought that it was a risk I had to take—otherwise, nobody would have known about my case. After I was interviewed on TV I was contacted by a woman from DEMUS. She called me saying that she would help and that she was interested in my case.

Q: What is it like to live in an environment where abortion is illegal?
K.L: From the beginning, I was taught that abortion wasn’t right. With everyone telling me what to do, I felt very guilty and depressed. The people at DEMUS told me that I wasn’t guilty and that it wasn’t my fault, but this is how I felt. I was very confused, I was only 17. I felt guilty for everything that had happened, starting with the pregnancy—for everything. Really, I was very alone.

Q: How do you feel about the decision?
K.L: It was very satisfactory. Very exciting. Until a person goes through this, it is hard to understand how difficult and painful it is. I had been feeling very disillusioned and depressed before. But now people from my community are responding to the news and calling me, and I feel proud.