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Perú Takes Critical Step To Implement Historic United Nations Ruling On Denial of Access to Legal Abortion

National Guidelines Adopted as Part of United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Ruling after Peruvian Woman Denied Legal Abortion Services

(PRESS RELEASE) The Peruvian government has adopted national guidelines for providing safe abortion services that will provide clarity for physicians and patients on legal abortion in the country.

The guidelines are part of the recommendations of a groundbreaking 2011 ruling from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that condemned Perú for violating the human rights of a young woman, L.C., who was denied legal abortion services. CEDAW recommended  that Perú 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. State officials announced the policy change leading up to Perú’s evaluation at CEDAW’s 58th session in Geneva, Switzerland.

Said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The Peruvian government has finally responded to the United Nations directive to establish clear guidelines on access to legal abortion.

“Perú is making incremental, but critical, progress towards ensuring women have access to safe, legal abortion services in these limited circumstances.

“In addition to implementing the new guidelines, we also urge the state to provide reparations to L.C. and other women who have suffered greatly because of Perú’s failure to provide legal abortion services.”

L.C., whose case was brought to CEDAW by the Center and local partner PROMSEX in 2009, 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 crippling 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. Two years later, CEDAW issued its groundbreaking ruling demanding that the state protect women’s health and human rights by changing its abortion laws and ensuring women’s access to legal abortion services.

Human rights bodies within the United Nations have consistently raised concerns about the denial of access to legal abortion services in Perú. 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, establishing that denying access to legal abortion violates women's human rights. The K.L. v. Peru case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights in partnership with 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).

Little has been done to implement both the L.C. and K.L. decisions until now.

“Thanks to tremendous pressure from women’s health advocates, the Peruvian government is finally addressing the significant gaps in the country’s abortion laws that have existed for decades,” said Rossina Guerrero, General Director of PROMSEX. “Now the Minister of Health and government officials must work diligently to ensure these health guidelines are implemented.”

Currently abortion in Perú is legal only when the health or life of a woman is at risk, and not in cases of rape. The devastating impact of criminalizing abortion in cases of rape is particularly far-reaching in Perú, which has the highest rate of reported rape in South America. Peruvian girls and adolescents account for an overwhelming proportion (78 percent) of rape cases and, adding insult to injury, public health services are prohibited from distributing emergency contraception.

A recent 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.