(PRESS RELEASE) The Peruvian government publicly acknowledged the human rights violations suffered by L.C., a rape survivor who was denied a medically-necessary abortion, as part of a historic United Nations (U.N.) ruling.
Peru’s Minister of Justice, Aldo Alejandro Vásquez Ríos, admitted the government’s failure to guarantee L.C.’s right to access legal abortion services at a convening today with health officials and civil society organizations, including the Center for Reproductive Rights and PROMSEX. In 2011, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) condemned Peru for violating L.C.’s human rights and 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.
The Center and PROMSEX brought L.C. v. Peru to CEDAW and negotiated the reparations agreement with the Peruvian government. This decision marks the third time in history that an international human rights body held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services. The Peruvian government was also held accountable by the Human Rights Committee in 2005 for failing to guarantee access to abortion to K.L., a woman who was forced to continue with a pregnancy that put her physical and mental health at risk, and recently provided her reparations.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Denying any woman or girl her legal right to abortion services is callus, cruel and a grave violation of her human rights.
“L.C.’s suffering pushed her to the brink of nearly committing suicide, and even then the hospital, and her own government, decided her health and life didn’t matter.
“Today, the Peruvian government continues to demonstrate its willingness to right the wrongs inflicted on women across the country who have been denied safe and legal abortion services. Peru must now take the crucial steps to clarify and implement its safe abortion guidelines and improve access to critical reproductive health services for all women and girls.”
In 2007, L.C. became pregnant at the age of 13 after being repeatedly raped by a male neighbor. She attempted suicide by jumping off a neighbor’s roof, suffering a severe spinal injury that required immediate surgery. Despite Peruvian laws permitting abortion when a woman’s health or life is at risk, doctors refused to operate on L.C. because it could pose a threat to her pregnancy. L.C. ultimately miscarried, but the medical care came too late—leaving her quadriplegic. Four years later, CEDAW issued its groundbreaking ruling demanding that the state protect women’s health and human rights by changing its abortion law and ensuring women’s access to legal abortion services.
“By acknowledging its failure to provide L.C. with the medical care she needed and deserved, Peru must now right these wrongs with long-term support services to L.C. and increased access to legal abortion services for all who need it—including decriminalizing abortion for rape survivors,” said Susana Chávez, Executive Director of PROMSEX.
Human rights bodies within the United Nations have consistently condemned the denial of access to legal abortion services in Peru. In 2005, the U.N. Human Rights Committee ruled in favor of a 17-year-old who was forced to carry to term a pregnancy with a fetal impairment incompatible with life, setting groundbreaking precedent recognizing that denying access to legal abortion violates women's human rights. The U.N. 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.
Since both the L.C. and K.L. rulings, the Peruvian government has taken some steps to implement these U.N. decisions. 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.
And in February 2016, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child released its findings on Peru, explicitly recommending the decriminalization of abortion in all circumstances, as well as post abortion care services in all cases. The committee called on the state to ensure access to safe abortion at minimum in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairments, as well as when girls’ lives or health are at risk. The committee also noted that “the views of pregnant girls should always be heard and respected in abortion decisions” and called for Peru to provide “clear guidance to health practitioners and information to adolescents on safe abortion and post-abortion care.”
Unsafe abortion is one of the five main causes of pregnancy-related death in Peru. And according to the Guttmacher Institute, about 760,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean are hospitalized annually for complications due to unsafe abortion.