Commentary Violence

In Peru, an Epidemic of Rape and Double Jeopardy for Rape Victims Seeking Abortion

Francoise Girard

Peru has more reported cases of rape and sexual violence than any other country in South America. Eight in ten of these victims are minors. Women and girls in this situation are faced with two options: seek an illegal abortion and risk going to jail or carry the pregnancy to term.

Peru, while famous for its modern culinary delights and ancient civilizations, also has a far less flattering distinction: it has more reported cases of rape and sexual violence than any other country in South America. Eight in ten of these victims are minors.

Researchers estimate that 35,000 pregnancies occur every year in Peru as a result of rape. Women and girls in this situation are faced with two options: seek an illegal abortion and risk going to jail or carry the pregnancy to term and suffer the psychological and physical trauma that go along with giving birth to your rapist’s child. Women who can prove that a pregnancy is the result of rape receive a “reduced” sentence of three months in jail (the standard prison sentence for illegal abortions in Peru is two years). Perversely, this reduced sentence does not apply to married women who are raped by their husbands, even though marital rape is a crime under Peruvian law. Doctors who perform abortions in cases of rape face up to six years in prison.

A coalition of women’s rights groups have launched a campaign to challenge this cruel violation of human rights. The campaign, Dejala Decidir (“Let her decide”), seeks to introduce a new law that decriminalizes abortion in cases of rape (currently, abortion is only permitted when the woman’s life or health is at risk). The groups, led by partners of the International Women’s Health CoalitionPROMSEX, Demus, Catholics for the Right to Decide-Peru, Manuela Ramos, CLADEM-Peru, and Flora Tristán—need to collect 60,000 valid signatures to petition Congress to consider the bill.

This is no small challenge. The requirement for valid signatures means that people must be willing to provide their government ID numbers to verify their identities. This may be intimidating to many people in a country where the Catholic Church exerts a great deal of influence in the government and within communities. Consider also that many people in rural and indigenous communities—especially poor women who are disproportionately impacted by the abortion ban—do not have government IDs. Even if the campaign succeeds in obtaining 60,000 valid signatures, there is no guarantee that Congress members will risk controversy or the ire of the Catholic Church and support a change in the law.

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The groups see the Dejala Decidir campaign as an opportunity to build a powerful and active movement on two important but neglected issues: abortion and rape. Every signature represents at least one more person informed about the harsh realities faced by rape victims in Peru, and mobilized to change the current abortion law.

George Liendo, Director of PROMSEX, says the time is ripe for a national dialogue. “It’s not always easy to build a coalition in Peru, but there is real energy for this campaign. People across the country want to put this on the political agenda.”

Peru is not the only country in the region rethinking its draconian approach to abortion. In October 2012, the Uruguayan congress voted to decriminalize abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

Activists in Peru have until October 2013 to collect enough signatures to ask their own Congress to act. In the meantime, we can expect a rich and lively dialogue on rape and abortion. It’s about time.

News Abortion

Lindsey Graham Pushes for 20-Week Abortion Ban in Senate—Again

Emily Crockett

“I can promise you a debate in 2015, and a vote,” Graham said at a press conference Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Thursday reintroduced his legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy nationwide, possibly pressuring the U.S. Senate to take a symbolic vote on the bill.

“I can promise you a debate in 2015, and a vote,” Graham said at a press conference Thursday, adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a “favorable” view of the bill and will make time for it in the schedule.

This isn’t a new fight for Graham, and it’s a fight the Republican-dominated Congress spent considerable time on this session. A version of the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, based on the discredited theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, already passed the House last month.

Graham’s bill is nearly identical to that legislation. Neither of the bills allow exceptions for a woman’s health or for fetal anomalies, many of which cannot be detected before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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After a heated debate over rape and incest exceptions temporarily killed the bill’s prospects this year, Republicans settled on requiring victims to wait 48 hours for an abortion rather than report their crime to police.

“The Senate Republicans’ abortion ban is an attack on rape and incest survivors, on pregnant women facing a health crisis and on women everywhere,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in a statement. “The bill offers no health exception—no help to women facing cancer, kidney failure or other tragic complications during their pregnancies. It also re-victimizes survivors of rape and incest by assuming they are lying and creating unconscionable barriers to care.”

Pro-choice legislators and advocates also oppose the legislation because it would present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and threaten women’s constitutional right to choose abortion care.

Roe determined that women have the right to an abortion before a fetus is viable, which is typically around 24 weeks’ gestation. A very small number of babies survive after being born earlier than that, but most have serious health issues.

The medically inaccurate language that Republican legislators use in 20-week ban bills further complicates the issue of gestational age.

Graham has made it clear that he hopes his bill will challenge the standards of Roe.

Roe v. Wade acknowledges that there is a compelling state interest in protecting the unborn child at the point of medical viability,” Graham said. “I would argue that since 1973 to now, that standard has probably changed. But we’re coming up with a new standard, which I think is very compelling.”

The standard is the discredited notion of “fetal pain,” and the anti-choice strategy is to use it to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The only way you can have a hearing at the highest level of the land is to get this bill through the Congress,” Graham said.

That will be an uphill battle, but it’s one Graham and his anti-choice allies are prepared to fight long term, hoping to convince the public that a 20-week ban is a reasonable compromise rather than a wholesale anti-choice attack on Roe v. Wade.

Graham’s spokesperson, Kevin Bishop, told Rewire that the bill is “unlikely” to get the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate today, and that even if it did, Obama would veto it.

“Graham has made it clear he doesn’t expect the bill to be passed into law,” Bishop said.

But a Senate vote to gauge support is the first step, he said. “Then over a few years, continue to build support for the day when it can be sent to a future president for a signature into law.”

News Abortion

New Texas Bill Would Dramatically Increase Hurdles for Abused and Neglected Teens Seeking Abortion

Andrea Grimes

On Memorial Day 2015, the Texas Senate passed an anti-abortion bill that would make it far harder for abused, abandoned, and neglected minors who rely on “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion. The bill would also require doctors who provide abortion care to demand government ID from their patients.

UPDATE, March 27, 2:10 p.m.: The Texas Senate gave its final approval to HB 3994 on Wednesday, with lawmakers voting along party lines to pass the new restrictions on Texas’ judicial bypass law. The Texas house must approve the upper chamber’s changes to the bill before it can go to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

The Texas Senate gave preliminary approval on Monday afternoon—Memorial Day 2015— to an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would make it far harder for abused, abandoned, and neglected minors who rely on “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion. The bill would also require doctors who provide abortion care to demand government ID from their patients.

After a nearly four-hour debate during which Democratic senators tried to parse the muddy language of HB 3994—the language of which has been derided even by anti-choice conservatives as confusing and unconstitutional—the chamber voted along party lines to approve a modified—and, critics say, even muddier—version of the original bill approved by the Texas house earlier this month. The bill’s sponsor and senate Republicans rejected more than a dozen amendments proposed by Democrats.

In the senate’s version of the bill—a combination of this substitute bill and this amendment language by sponsor Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)—it is up to doctors who provide abortion care to demand a form of government ID from their patients and specifically report to the state health department about any abortion care they provide to a patient who does not show valid government identification. Language in the bill is based in part on a Texas Family Code statute, which excludes drivers’ licenses from Mexico from the list of valid identification options doctors may seek from patients.

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Current Texas law, signed into law more than 15 years ago by then-Gov. George W. Bush, requires that minors have the permission of a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion. Pregnant minors who seek abortion care without parental consent must go through a judicial bypass process. The new bill would dramatically raise the hurdles minors would face when seeking a judicial bypass.

Currently, minors must prove to a judge in any county in Texas that they are either: mature enough to make a decision on their own about their pregnancy, that it is not in their best interest to notify their parents of their pregnancy, or that notification of parents under these circumstances would lead to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. HB 3994 changes nearly every part of that existing process to make it more burdensome for abused, neglected, and abandoned pregnant minors seeking an abortion.

In a statement following the mostly partisan senate vote—one anti-choice Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) is a co-sponsor of HB 3994—legal counsel and co-founder of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that assists minors in the judicial bypass process, called it “rife with constitutional problems.”

“As written it invites a lawsuit against the state—even while the litigation on HB 2 has not yet finished,” said Susan Hays, referencing the omnibus anti-abortion bill passed despite state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in 2013, which has shuttered dozens of legal abortion facilities across the state.

The Texas Alliance For Life, which helped Texas Republicans draft the bill and its many iterations and anti-choice amendments, tweeted during the debate that HB 3994 was a backdoor ban on abortion care for minors, saying that “we want to protect parents’ rights, knowing that SCOTUS will not allow states to ban all abortions.”

Perry denied that the bill is intended to limit access to abortion care in Texas.

Between 200 and 300 Texan children and teens, some who are survivors of incest and sexual assault, go through a judicial bypass process each year because their parents are deceased, abusive, incarcerated, or otherwise incapable of safely guiding their children through decisions about an unintended and unwanted pregnancy.

Judicial bypass does not obligate a minor to seek abortion care, but without it, a minor who cannot obtain parental consent has no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term. The process allows a minor to decide between abortion, adoption, or parenting.

The new restrictions would raise the burden of proof that abused, abandoned, and neglected minors must meet when taking their case to a judge, and would give judges five business days, rather than two business days, to rule on a minor’s judicial bypass application. This delay could extend the process of judicial bypass by more than a week and push some minors past the threshold when legal abortion care is allowed in the state.

After five days with no ruling, the new law considers the bypass to have been automatically denied, rather than automatically granted as under current statute. And new venue restrictions under the law would also bar most teens from filing for a bypass outside their home county, or outside the county where their doctor is located, putting rural teens at risk of being recognized and harassed at their local courthouse.

During debate on Monday, Democrats said that the law is unclear as to whether it even requires a judge to rule on the judicial bypass application at all, or whether minors would need to appeal directly to a higher court—without a record of denial from the lower court—to continue the bypass process.

Perry said during the debate that he “believed” no judge would decline to rule on a case where parents were abusive and that he “hoped” judges would grant bypasses in cases of incest, adding that HB 3994 was “not about distrust at all, it’s about making sure there’s a process in place.”

During earlier hearings on earlier versions of the bill, anti-choice Republicans indicated that they believed that teens were lying to otherwise loving parents in trying to obtain judicial bypasses, and that judges wanted clarification on the existing law. However, the only judge who spoke out publicly on the law said that she was against it, saying that it could put both her, and minors who seek bypasses in her court, in danger because of confidentiality concerns and new reporting requirements that aggregate data on judicial bypass approvals.

HB 3994 also requires a judge to report any abuse reported by a minor seeking judicial bypass to local law enforcement, which is then required to investigate claims of abuse. This effectively ensures that abusers will become aware of their child’s pregnancy if that child decides to go to court for their right to abortion without parental consent, potentially putting those pregnant Texans in danger of further abuse.

HB 3994 will need one more largely procedural vote from the senate before it is passed back to the house for its concurrence on the changes to the original bill language.