Six years ago this week, the Center for Reproductive Rights won a groundbreaking victory for the women of Peru and around the world . For the first time, an international human rights body condemned a country for failing to provide abortion services that were both legal and essential to the health of a woman, violating her fundamental human rights in the process.
Crucial as that victory was as a legal precedent, its long-term impact has been rendered negligible by Peru’s government, which continues to be inattentive to women’s rights and unmoved by global sentiment.
The Center brought its case before the United Nations Human Rights Committee on behalf of a young woman named K.L. She was 17 when she found out she was pregnant, and she planned on having the child. But when she was three months pregnant, doctors told her that the fetus was anencephalic: incapable of developing a brain, with zero chance of survival after birth. Carrying the pregnancy to term would be dangerous for K.L., both physically and mentally.
Peru’s laws allow for abortions in cases when a woman’s health is endangered, but hospital officials illegally denied K.L.’s request and her rights – and forced her not only to carry the pregnancy to term, but also to breast feed the baby for the four days she survived after birth.
The Human Rights Committee’s finding in the case was clear and direct: Denying K.L. an abortion was a violation of international standards prohibiting violence against women, and constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Fast forward six years. Now the Center for Reproductive Rights is fighting the Peruvian government in virtually the same battle, seeking justice on behalf of a young girl whose reproductive rights were shoved aside for ideological reasons. And once again, a young girl’s life has been irreparably harmed and radically altered.
L.C. was first raped by an older man in her neighborhood when she was nine years old. This vicious crime continued for four years, until she found out she was pregnant. Devastated, L.C. threw herself from the roof of her neighbor’s building – but her suicide attempt failed.
The broken spine she suffered could have been repaired, but doctors ignored the value of L.C.’s well-being and chose instead to save her pregnancy. Two months later, L.C. miscarried. The surgery she needed was finally performed another month after. But it was too late. The enormous delay dramatically diminished the success of the intervention, and L.C. is quadriplegic as a result.
In 2009, the Center took on her case to once again hold the Peruvian government accountable for its negligence in enforcing its own reproductive laws. A decision is now pending from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Each landmark victory, every legal precedent, helps to build a path toward the dignity and equality that all women – all people – deserve. But those successes cannot stand on their own. Vigorous implementation absolutely must follow. And the Center for Reproductive Rights will be vigilant in holding all governments to account, every step of the way.