(PRESS RELEASE) The Peruvian government has agreed to pay reparations as part of the first United Nations (U.N.) ruling on human rights violations in an abortion case.
Almost a decade after the U.N. Human Rights Committee declared that Peru’s denial of access to legal abortion services is a human rights violation, the government will provide reparations to K.L., a woman who was forced to continue with a pregnancy that put her physical and mental health at risk, even though abortion is legal in these circumstances under Peruvian law.
The Center for Reproductive Rights with local partners 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) brought her case to the U.N. Committee and negotiated the reparations agreement. This decision marked the first time in history that an international human rights body held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Denying a woman her right to legal abortion services is cruel, inhuman and a grave violation of human rights.
“K.L. was refused critical medical treatment at a time when she needed it most, needlessly placing her life in jeopardy and leaving her with serious, long-term health consequences.
“Today the Peruvian government has taken an important step to abide by the United Nations’ decision. But this work is far from over. It’s time for Peru to clarify and implement its safe abortion guidelines and continue improving access to critical reproductive health services for all women and girls.”
In 2001, a 17-year-old Peruvian woman, known as K.L., was fourteen weeks pregnant when doctors at a public hospital in Lima diagnosed the fetus with anencephaly, a fatal fetal impairment in which the fetus lacks most or all of a forebrain. Doctors determined that continuing with the pregnancy to term would put K.L.’s health and life at risk, so she decided to have any abortion. Abortion is legal in Peru for therapeutic reasons, but because Peru failed to adopt clear regulations for providing abortion services K.L. was denied access to the procedure by the hospital’s director. K.L. was forced to carry the pregnancy to and to breast-feed for the four days the infant survived.
The Center, CLADEM and DEMUS submitted a petition on behalf of K.L. before the U.N. Human Rights Committee in November 2002—the first abortion case brought to the human rights body. The committee declared Peru responsible for violating K.L.’s human rights and ordered the state to provide individual reparations to K.L. and implement general measures to ensure that women can access safe and legal abortion services in Peru. The ruling specifically establishes violations of the rights to be free from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment and privacy, as well as special protection of the rights of a minor.
“This is an important milestone for K.L. after 10 years of waiting for the Peruvian government to comply with this binding U.N. judgement,” said María Ysabel Cedano, Director of DEMUS. “These reparations mark the recognition of a woman’s right to therapeutic abortion and that the state has an obligation to fulfill this right.”
Said Elba Núñez, Regional Coordinator of CLADEM:
“The steps taken by Peru to comply with the opinion sets a key precedent that must be secured in reaffirming the obligation and commitment of the State to adopt measures of non-repetition.
“We hope the government will quickly work to implement these policies, such as the safe abortion guidelines and publishing the U.N. decision in K.L.’s case so we can prevent similar reproductive rights violations in the future.”
Human rights bodies within the United Nations have consistently raised concerns about the denial of access to legal abortion services in Peru. In 2011, U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) similarly condemned Peru for violating the human rights of a young woman, L.C., who was denied legal abortion services. CEDAW recommended that Peru amend its law to allow abortion in cases of rape, ensure the availability of those abortion services, and guarantee access to abortion services when a woman’s life or health is in danger—circumstances under which abortion is already legal in the country.
Since the 2005 U.N. Human Rights Committee ruling, the Peruvian government has taken some steps to implement this U.N. decision. In 2014, the government adopted national guidelines for providing safe abortion services that provide clarity for physicians and patients on legal abortion in the country.
“The challenges of implementing the protocol are evident when according to Ministry of Health have only been performed 16 therapeutic abortions nationwide since the adoption of the guidelines. Underreporting rate of abortions in the country persists, and there is the suspicion of a violation of rights which we expect the Ministry to address,” added Cedano of DEMUS.
On November 18th, 2015, the Peruvian Government signed a final agreement for the implementation and payment of the reparations outlined in the K.L. decision. In addition to providing the monetary reparations, the Peruvian Government will publish the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s decision in the country’s leading newspaper “El Peruano”.
A 2012 study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforced the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate is just 12 per 1,000.