U.N. Rules that Peru Must Relax Restrictions on Abortion
On November 7, 2011 an international human rights body condemned Peru for violating the human rights of a young woman seeking legal abortion services in the country and ruled that the government must ease its restrictions on abortion.
In a groundbreaking decision issued in L.C. v. Peru—a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partner organization in Peru PROMSEX—the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ruled that Peru must amend its law to allow women to obtain an abortion in cases of rape and sexual assault; establish a mechanism to 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 currently legal in the country.
“Once again, the U.N. has made it clear that denying access to essential medical services, including abortion, constitutes a violation of human rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This young woman’s case illustrates the horrifying consequences when governments deny women access to the full range of reproductive health services that is their right. We will continue to press Peru to safeguard the reproductive rights of women not only on paper, but intheir daily lives.”
The case revolves around L.C.*, a 13-year-old rape victim, who was left seriously disabled after state health officials denied her a potentially life-saving abortion.
Over the course of four years, she was repeatedly raped by different men in her neighborhood. When she discovered that she was pregnant, she threw herself from the roof of a building—but the suicide attempt failed. The broken spine she suffered from the fall could have been repaired, but doctors refused to perform surgery because the procedure could harm her pregnancy. Peru currently allows abortion in cases where the woman’s health and life are at risk. But it was only after L.C. miscarried that doctors were willing to perform the necessary surgery. The enormous delay dramatically diminished the success of the intervention, and L.C. is now quadriplegic as a result.
“This decision makes clear that as a matter of human rights, governments have a responsibility to dispel the harmful belief that an embryo should be valued over her life and well-being,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy that puts her physical or mental health at risk is purely discrimination.”
CEDAW’s ruling specifically establishes violations to the right to health without discrimination, the obligation to eliminate gender stereotypes and the right to access an effective remedy. It also orders the Peruvian government to provide adequate reparation and compensation to L.C. as well as rehabilitation measures.
The ruling reinforces a landmark decision in the Center for Reproductive Rights’ 2005 case K.L. v. Peru. In that case, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found in favor of a 17-year-old who was forced to carry to term a pregnancy with fetal abnormalities incompatible with life, establishing that denying access to legal abortion violates women's most basic human rights.
*The initials used are a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the client.
IPPF/WHR Member Association Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsable (INPPARES) is Peru’s leading sexual and reproductive health organization. Since high rates of adolescent pregnancy are common throughout the region, particularly among the most economically vulnerable, INPPARES works with the poorest and most marginalized communities to provide comprehensive sexuality education. They also provide reproductive health services for youth, which is how they met Carmen.
Carmen, a 19-year-old woman, came to a INPPARES clinic feeling depressed and emotionally upset. She revealed during the conversation that she had been raped six weeks earlier, but had not reported it or sought medical care because she felt ashamed. In desperation, she had attempted to induce an abortion using medication and was suffering from vaginal bleeding.
Carmen’s mother was with her during the visit, and she was able to talk openly about what had happened. In addition to information on post-abortion care, she was offered counseling and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. When she returned for a follow-up visit, she was counselled on different contraceptive methods. IPPF/WHR believes that all women have the right to sexual and reproductive health services provided in a safe and confidential environment.