Despite the fact that abortion to save the life or health of a woman, commonly called therapeutic abortion, has been legal in Peru since 1924, the majority of Peruvian women have been unable to access this essential service. Until this past Saturday, national protocols for providing therapeutic abortion did not exist in Peru and, consequently, medical staff did not have guidelines to follow to provide this life-saving treatment. Due to this regulatory vacuum, therapeutic abortion was not included in the list of services provided for free by the Ministry of Health, creating an even bigger barrier for poor women and young girls.
On July 28, however, Minister of Health Midori de Habich reported that the protocols had finally been enacted, 90 years after Article 119 of the Penal Code legalized therapeutic abortion. The protocols allow for abortion up to 22 weeks of gestation to protect a woman’s health. The news was met with relief by the more than 100 national and international organizations that had signed a letter drafted by IWHC partner Promsex and others pressuring the government to issue comprehensive protocols. The protocols came just days before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) convened to review Peru’s record on women’s rights, and were defended by many well-known supporters, including First Lady of Peru Nadine Heredia.
Activists are celebrating this victory for women’s rights, but recognize there is more work to be done. Rossina Guerrero, Director-General of Promsex, is in Geneva today at the CEDAW meeting to ensure that her government is accountable for upholding its obligations. The protocols are an important first step, she says, but she knows that when she returns home, Promsex and other civil society organizations must continue their pressure on the government to ensure that the protocols are implemented quickly and correctly to protect the life and health of Peruvian women and girls who are legally entitled to safe abortion.
Activists say this fight to establish protocols for therapeutic abortion has been for the many women who died or suffered greatly due to the government’s almost century-long delay. In 2013 alone, 122 women in Peru died from illnesses that were made worse by their pregnancies.
In their open letter to the government last week, the groups described the case of L.C., an 11-year-old Peruvian girl who in 2009 became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by a man in her Lima neighborhood. Scared, ashamed, and desperate, she flung herself off a neighbor’s roof. Doctors concluded that her spine needed to be realigned immediately, but they refused to operate on L.C. because she was pregnant. Today, L.C. is a quadriplegic.
In an interview yesterday, L.C. welcomed the release of the new protocols, saying, “This brings me great joy, since thanks to me and other women who denounced the Peruvian State before CEDAW at the United Nations, we have ensured that other people that go through this, God forbid, will be able to access therapeutic abortion, a procedure that can save the life of the woman.”