K.L. was 17 years old and 14 weeks pregnant when she found out that the fetus she was carrying was anencephalic and would not survive outside of the womb. Despite the fact that abortion is legal in Peru when a pregnant woman’s health is at risk, K.L. was repeatedly denied abortion care by doctors who claimed that the law forbade them from preforming the service. Not only was she forced to carry the pregnancy to term, but the doctors also made her breastfeed her baby until she died four days after being born. This was in 2001.
In 2007 the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Peru responsible for violating K.L.’s right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. For forcing K.L. to continue a pregnancy that posed risks to her physical and mental health, Peru was ordered to pay reparations to K.L. as well as implement clear guidelines as to when health care providers are legally permitted--and obligated--to provide abortion services.
During the ensuing years, the K.L. case has become a bedrock of reproductive rights jurisprudence and is regularly cited in cases challenging the denial of abortion services. K.L. has become a feminist icon in Peru and her story has helped to motivate reproductive rights activists in the country. Her bravery and willingness to challenge an arbitrary and unjust system has led to significant change and improved the ability of millions of women throughout the world to access reproductive services. Despite the ordeal she went through, K.L. had never received an apology for the suffering she was forced to undergo. On March 5th, 12 years after the judgement and 18 years after her traumatic ordeal, she was finally afforded that opportunity when the government of Peru issued K.L. an official and public apology.
Prior to the public apology, the Minister of Justice had a closed-door meeting with K.L. in which he asked her what would be the most important thing for her to hear from him. This was her chance to finally receive the recognition of the personal pain and trauma she was forced to undergo. But instead of focusing on her story, she told the minister that she wanted him talk about the way that Peru violates women’s human rights when they are denied abortion care as she was. She wanted him to acknowledge that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that the law exists in practice and not just theory. And she assured him that for her, this apology is just the beginning. The end will only occur once the Protocol to Access Legal Abortion (the Protocol), developed by the government as a direct result of her case, is fully implemented.
The Minister heeded her request, and in front of a packed room including the Ministry of Health, the First Lady of Peru, and members of congress, the Minister of Justice not only apologized to K.L. but acknowledged that the government must do better to protect the reproductive rights of Peruvian women. In his speech he called upon the Minister of Health directly to ask him to follow through on the successful implementation of the Protocol.
“This was far from a symbolic reparation,” said Catalina Martinez Coral, Regional Director of Latin America and the Caribbean. “The fact that there were representatives from all the key ministries showed K.L. that the whole state was in support of this apology. It was important for her to be in that room and hear the Minister of Justice himself acknowledge Peru’s wrongdoing.” By asking the Minister to speak broadly about the need for human rights reform as well as the Protocol specifically, K.L. provided reproductive rights activists in Peru valuable tools in holding the government accountable. They will be able to point to the government’s words and demand action in return.
K.L., it was an honor to represent you and we are forever thankful for your bravery, tenacity, and perseverance and we are so happy that you finally got the apology you deserved.