Proposed Abortion Law in Peru Meets Heavy Opposition

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Proposed Abortion Law in Peru Meets Heavy Opposition

Angela Castellanos

Revisions in Peru's Penal Code may lead to decriminalizing abortion in cases of rape or severe disability of the fetus. But conservative political and religious forces are, predictably, opposing these changes.

Various Latin American countries are creating barriers to access to safe abortion except in exceptional circumstances, while also reforming their constitutions in order to avoid any possibility of liberalizing the procedure.  

But in Peru a multidisciplinary committee in charge of revising the Penal Code has opened the door to decriminalizing abortion in cases of rape or severe disability of the fetus.

On October 6th, the Special Reviewer Commission of the Peruvian Penal Code supported a law that authorizes therapeutic abortion and proposed the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape or congenital disorders in the fetus, also known as eugenic abortion.

The proposal has to be debated in Congress, which is likely to start its discussion this December. Therapeutic abortion, which has been authorized since 1924, currently has yet to be regulated.

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Members of Congress, representatives of judicial power, and delegates from the associations of lawyers and of vice-chancellors are all a part of the Special Reviewer Commission.

As soon as the announcement was made, a lack of a unified governmental position was revealed. The Minister of Health, Oscar Ugarte, stated that therapeutic abortion is not against the right of life and announced that it will be regulated, because it is important to save the lives of women.

However, the Minister of Defense, Rafael Rey, rejected the proposition and warned that he will resign his position if Congress approves the decriminalization of abortion in these exceptional circumstances.

The female Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, Mercedes Araóz, also rejected the liberalization of abortion and suggested that the solution in case of rape is to bring the babies to adoption. But the Minister of Justice, Aurelio Pastor, went even further, calling on the Commission to repeat the session and vote again on the proposition.

Prior to the session, the streets of the capital city, Lima, were filled with protests and demonstrations by women’s organizations in favor of the decriminalization of abortion in these special cases. Women gathered in public squares with banners explaining the different reasons which led them to seek an abortion, such as “I wanted to continue my studies," “I was raped," “My life was at risk."

On October 21st, the Special Reviewer Commission repeated the vote and ratified the proposition.  More than 100 women organizations and NGOs  devoted to sexual and reproductive rights applauded this decision in a declaration promoted by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights; Campaña 28 de Septiembre, and Centro de la Mujer Peruana Flora Tristán.

As in other countries, the debate has the same three issues: judicial, ethic and medical.

From the judicial point of view, the opponents of decriminalization argue that the second article of the Peruvian Constitution orders the protection of life from the moment of conception. On the other hand, those for the liberalization of abortion ask to observe the international treaties on Human Rights signed by the State of Peru, and the recommendations from the Committee against Torture and the CEDAW.

Among the medical arguments against abortion is that scientific advancements have diminished maternal mortality. However, Peruvian women are living in poor conditions and the health system has yet to be updated to provide adequate universal health care.

Last but not at least, objectors state conscience reasons such as no one – not even a mother – has the right to decide the fate of an unborn human being and therefore to end a pregnancy is a crime in all cases. However, for those who support the decriminalization of eugenic abortions, the mental and physical health of a woman is more important than a fetus whose life out of uterus is nonviable.

Defenders of legal abortion in cases of rape believe that women cannot be forced by law to carry on an unwanted pregnancy after experiencing the trauma of being raped, moreover, they have the right to choose to become a mother as a result of a rape or to get an abortion. Complications of unsafe abortion are the leading cause of maternal death in Peru.

In addition, there are religious motivations behind many of the opponents, often unmentioned, particularly by members of the government. Because of this, women’s organizations advocate respecting the secular status of Peru.

Public opinion is nearly equal on both sides of the issue. According the surveys conducted by the company Apoyo for the daily El Comercio, 53 percent disapprove of abortion when pregnancy is the result of rape, and 41 percent approve. Also 48 percent of respondents say no to eugenic abortion, and 46 percent state that they agree it should be allowed.