(PRESS RELEASE) Peru’s ban on the distribution of emergency contraception in public hospitals denied a rape survivor access to essential medical treatment following her assault, according to a new case filed in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – a principal human rights body for the Americas.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Promsex, DEMUS and Paz y Esperanza, filed the case on behalf of Maria, an adolescent who was knocked unconscious, gang raped and later denied emergency contraception from the public hospital where she sought emergency services. The petition seeks justice and reparations for Maria as well as an order for the Peruvian government to lift the ban on distribution of emergency contraception in public hospitals.
Peru has the highest reported rate of rape in South America, yet in 2009, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal ordered the Ministry of Health to stop distributing emergency contraception in public hospitals, wrongfully claiming the medicine induces abortion and that the government therefore cannot distribute it through public institutions.
Said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Peru’s public hospitals have a responsibility to immediately provide quality medical services to all individuals, yet a rape survivor was denied essential treatment for preventing unwanted pregnancy after her assault.
“In a country with soaring rates of sexual violence, the ban on emergency contraception puts the health of far too many Peruvian women and girls at risk.
“The Inter-American Commission must intervene and order the government of Peru to ensure universal access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including emergency contraception.”
The IACHR petition argues that the ban on distributing emergency contraception in public hospitals violated Maria’s rights to health, liberty, personal integrity and to access information. The case also demonstrates that banning emergency contraception in public health institutions disproportionately affects rape survivors and adolescents, as well as rural and poor women—the most vulnerable populations who need access to this essential medicine.
On March 23, 2014, Maria was assaulted and kidnapped by four men on her way home after taking a school exam. Three of the men wore masks but Maria recognized the fourth perpetrator as a former classmate. She was drugged multiple times and woke up later the same day in a park with intense genital pain.
Maria called her parents and they took her to the hospital in Huanuco. The medical staff told her parents they needed to file a police report before they could examine her. Maria’s mother went to two police precincts before being able to file a formal complaint. Upon examination, Maria’s doctors confirmed she had signs of being sexually assaulted. On March 25, a nurse left a prescription for emergency contraception on Maria’s bed, without any explanation or dosage directions.
Unable to fill the prescription at the public hospital caring for Maria, her family visited multiple private pharmacies to buy the medicine. Maria managed to take the medicine within the 72-hour window of effectiveness, but the hospital staff and pharmacy failed to provide any information on how to administer the medicine.
For more than a year after the assault, Maria lived in fear—receiving death threats from the former classmate that attacked her. After evading authorities, he was arrested in September 2015 and sentenced to one year in juvenile detention. The other three attackers remain at large and unpunished.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has voiced concerns over Peru’s ban on emergency contraception in United Nations human right bodies. In a submission to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Center highlights how the ban on free distribution of emergency contraception in public healthcare system has limited access to the essential medicine, since 68 percent of contraceptive users in Peru are reliant on the public health systems. Both the U.N. Committee against Torture and the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child have expressed concern about the lack of access to emergency contraception in Peru, and have called on the government to legalize its free, public distribution.