Monday, June 22, 2009

Teen Rape Victim Files Case Against Peru in U.N. Committee

• Teen Rape Victim Files Case Against Peru in U.N. Committee


Today, a 16-year-old Peruvian rape survivor who suffered devastating consequences after being denied an abortion filed a human rights petition against her government before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW Committee monitors states’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. L.C., who wishes to remain anonymous, charges that Peru’s failure to implement measures that guarantee a woman’s ability to obtain essential reproductive health services in a timely manner, particularly legal abortion, not only violates the Peruvian Constitution, but international treaty obligations.

“Extreme human rights violations against women and girls, such as L.C., occur in Peru on a daily basis,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, regional manager and legal adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who represents L.C. along with the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (PROMSEX). “As L.C.’s case illustrates, it is not enough to simply pass a law that permits access to abortion—-it is imperative that governments establish and enforce regulations that guarantee women are able to obtain those services and obtain them safely.”

In 2006, L.C., 13-years-old at the time, was repeatedly raped by a 34-year-old male who lived in her neighborhood, the district of Ventanilla, an impoverished section in the province of El Callao near the capital city of Lima. By 2007, she learned that she was pregnant. Desperate, L.C. attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a building next door to her house. Neighbors discovered her and rushed her to the hospital. After examining her condition and diagnosing an immediate referral to realign her spine, doctors refused to provide her with urgent care arguing that they could not operate on L.C. because she was pregnant. Even though Peru allows abortion in cases where the mother’s health and life are at risk, hospital officials failed to treat L.C. L.C. eventually suffered a miscarriage because of the severity of her injuries.

Several weeks after the miscarriage, four months after she was told she needed surgery, L.C. did undergo the spinal procedure, but was told shortly thereafter that the surgery would have little to no effect and that she would remain paralyzed.

“What happened to L.C. is a travesty.Requiring a woman to carry a pregnancy to term when the pregnancy threatens her physical and mental health constitutes discrimination because it prioritizes her reproductive capacity over her health,” said Susana Chávez, director of PROMSEX. “As a medical procedure sought only by women, the denial of a timely abortion constitutes discrimination.”

In 2002, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a similar case against Peru before the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC). In 2005, that committee ruled against Peru for failing to protect K.L., a young woman who was forced by state officials to carry to term a pregnancy with fetal abnormalities incompatible with life. The UNHRC found that denying access to legal abortion violates women's most basic human rights and ordered Peru to adopt the necessary regulations to guarantee access to legal abortion. The government has failed to abide by the decision.

Among other remedies, L.C. is asking that the Peruvian government acknowledge the human rights violation; provide L.C. with reparations, including physical and mental rehabilitation; and issue necessary measures so that no other woman is denied her right to comprehensive health care and therapeutic abortion.

Petition Filed Against Peru with UN CEDAW Committee

Petition Filed Against Peru with UN CEDAW Committee

A 16-year-old Peruvian rape survivor filed a petition with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) against Peru yesterday. While abortion is legal in Peru in case of risk to a woman's health or life, the petition alleges that the failure of the Peruvian government to adequately enforce existing laws led to the anonymous survivor's paralysis.

At age 13, the young woman was raped by a 34-year-old man and became pregnant. After discovering the pregnancy, she attempted suicide by jumping off a building. Doctors treated her injuries, but refused to perform necessary spinal surgery when they realized she was pregnant. Ultimately, the young woman had a miscarriage as a result of her injuries, but remained paralyzed after undergoing surgery.

A similar case was filed against Peru by the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2002. In that case, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in favor of a young woman who was forced to carry to term a fetus with fatal abnormalities. The Committee ruled that access to abortion in the case of threats to maternal health is a human right and Peru was ordered to change their abortion laws.

Peru signed CEDAW on July 23, 1981. CEDAW is the most comprehensive international agreement that seeks women's advancement. It establishes rights for women in areas not previously subject to international standards. Moreover, the Convention establishes a committee to periodically review the progress being made by its adherents. The US is the only industrialized western country that has not ratified CEDAW, which has been ratified by 185 countries.

Media Resources: Center for Reproductive Rights 6/18/09; Feminist Daily News Wire 2/25/04, 4/14/09; United Nations CEDAW

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jamaica: For an Abortion Law That Reaches The Poor

JAMAICA: For an Abortion Law That Reaches the Poor
By Zadie Neufville

KINGSTON, Jun 14 (IPS) - When a Jamaican women’s group Sistren realised the voices of poor women were missing in a national debate on abortion rights, they boldly staged a play before parliamentarians reviewing a draft law that seeks to clarify when abortion can be deemed legal.

Called ‘Slice of Reality’, the performance was aimed to give "a voice to groups of women whose experiences may not otherwise be heard", says Lana Finikin, Sistren’s executive director. It tells the stories of "poor women who are being robbed of the right to make decisions concerning their own bodies" she told IPS in an interview.

The right to abortion is outlawed in Jamaica under an archaic Offenses Against the Persons Act, which is modeled along the lines of an English law of the same name, legislated in 1861. It prescribes life imprisonment for a woman who aborts her foetus and up to three years in jail for the doctor who helps her.

The common law under which abortions may be legally carried out, women’s activists say, perpetuates a situation where only the rich are able to take advantage. Abortions are allowed in cases of rape, incest, and extreme abnormality of the foetus or danger to the mother, but the only hospital that provided the service to the poor closed in the mid-90s.

Sistren’s taut, 10-minute performance on Mar. 12 was one of dozens of presentations before a joint select committee of parliament reviewing the pending Termination of Pregnancy Act. The new law seeks to clarify when abortions can be termed legal.

In Kingston’s tough inner-city communities, an unplanned pregnancy can mean a lifetime of poverty. Abortion which carries a stigma - scorn and social ostracism - is out of the reach of most women. With only a few doctors willing to do the procedure, the cost of a termination is high, starting at 250 dollars, when daily wage workers earn roughly 43 dollars a week.

As a result, according to Finikin, many risk their lives in unsafe abortions or by consuming dangerous herbal concoctions or lethal drug combinations to cause miscarriages. Health Ministry data show that between Mar. 1 and Aug. 31, 2005, there were 641 admissions due to complications from botched abortions at the island’s main maternity hospital in Kingston.

For more than a year now, the joint select committee has been hearing pro- and anti-abortion arguments as it seeks to re-write the draft legislation.

Finikin feels that the debate is confined to the rights of the foetus and the immorality of the act without regard for the reasons why women decide to abort. She is upset that a poor woman who is raped has no choice. "When you tell me that somebody rapes me, that I must walk with that trauma for nine months and then bring it to fruition…" she said, very graphically expressing the pain many women who have to raise a child born out of rape.

Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), a Caribbean women’s rights forum, which has been coordinating the campaign for a just abortion law for the poor, issued a statement. "To continue to criminalise abortion puts women’s lives at risk, and suggests that the right of the foetus outweighs the right of women to have control over their own body and life," it noted.

The Sistren Theatre Collective, one of the members, has been at the forefront of educating women about their rights for more than 32 years.

Meanwhile, the pro-life lobby has several well-known members of the Christian clergy in its ranks including a well-known playwright, actor and Jesuit priest Father Richard HoLung, a longtime advocate for the poor and founder of the Missionaries of the Poor.

They have accused parliamentarians of supporting abortion, "a barbaric and evil" act, in order to secure money for HIV/AIDS programmes from the European Union and the U.S., charges which both have denied.

Opposition member of parliament Lisa Hanna who is on the joint parliamentary committee told IPS that in her rural north coast constituency of South Eastern St. Ann, women and girls who are desperate to end their pregnancy resort to all sorts of life threatening solutions.

A Slice of Reality portrays these and other stories of insane or other mentally challenged women and those without social support who are preyed on by abusive men, or girls who are forced into sexual relationships with gunmen in their communities.

Slice of Reality portrays like these and other stories of women without social support who are preyed on by abusive men, or girls who are forced into sexual relationships with gunmen in their communities.

In addition, there are teenager victims of incestuous relationships who are sworn to secrecy by their families, and women whose husbands refuse to permit them to access birth control methods.

Lobbying for support for women’s reproductive rights and (access to) abortion, DAWN states "it is a woman’s right to have all options available to her" so she can make an informed decision.

While the common law allows abortions under specified conditions, it "gives doctors the right over women’s lives since not all situations in which women become pregnant, may be strictly in line with the definition provided for under the law", according to DAWN.

With the hearing almost completed, the parliamentary committee will soon make its recommendations.

"All information taken in these hearings will be taken into consideration. The chairman will make our report to parliament and the legislation will be redrafted," says MP Hanna. She is optimistic that the committee will be able to table the bill in Jamaica’s lawmaking lower house of parliament by year end.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kenya: Abortion: The Bitter Truth

Abortion: The bitter truth
The Standard, Nairobi, Kenya.

Published on 04/06/2009

By Dann Okoth

Unsafe abortions are taking a heavy toll on women and the heath care system with three of 10 pregnancy related deaths arising from botched attempts to end pregnancies, a Government survey reveals.

As young people continue to rely on sex myths, the Church adamantly against lifting the ban on abortion, courts dodging the matter and pro-abortion activists in no mood to compromise, the situation is bound to get worse. According to the survey, unsafe abortions account for a staggering 35 per cent of all maternal deaths with public hospitals spending over Sh18 million on treatment of related complications.

The survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and Ipas, an international NGO that works around the world to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, finds that there are 380,000 unsafe abortions annually. This amounts to an incredible 800 unsafe abortions a day up from 700 cases 2002.

"A whopping Sh18 million of taxpayer’s money goes to mitigate the effects of the botched abortions," says Dr B Kigen the Deputy Head of the Division of Reproductive Health in the ministry.

Teenagers represent nearly 16 per cent of failed abortion cases that end up in public hospitals.

The survey whose findings have been collected and collated since 2004 reveals that for every 100,000 births there are 414 stillbirths directly associated with unsafe abortions.

The figure is double the amount set aside for the ministry in this financial year’s supplementary estimates for basic wages for temporary employees which stands at Sh12 million.

Tip of the iceberg

The figure could be a tip of the iceberg. "The numbers could be much higher and cost to the economy much bigger especially considering that the survey only captures cases that report to public health institutions for treatment," Kigen says.

The financial cost is not fully reflected in the figures because treatment in public hospitals is subsidized. For instance, Kenyatta National Hospital only charges Sh300 for cleaning the womb and associated treatment for each botched abortion. A similar service could cost upwards of Sh150,000 in a private hospital in Nairobi. "In private hospitals such cases are considered surgical where the requirement is that a patient deposits Sh100,000 . Ultimately, the cost of such operations run into several hundred thousand shillings depending on the gravity of the condition," says a lead surgeon in one of the leading private hospitals in Nairobi.

It is not yet clear how many cases end up in ragtag health outlets scattered across the country.

A recent case where a self-professed gynaecologist in Nairobi was hauled to court accused of illegally carrying out abortion and foetuses found dumped along the roadside in the city points to a growing problem. Indeed the fact that many young girls who procure such abortions never come out from these insidious health joints alive is a wake up call for the authorities to act.

But just to give a glimpse of what burden unsafe abortion has become, Kigen says that now such cases take up 50 per cent occupancy in gynaecological beds in public hospitals.

This essentially points to the fact that a huge chunk of the health ministry budget goes to take care of such cases.

"One per cent of women admitted to public hospitals with abortion complications die," Kigen says.

Incredibly, 16 per cent of the cases are girls under 19 while 70 per cent are women aged between 20-34 years.

The shocking revelations come a few months after doctors petitioned the Government to lift prohibitive laws on abortion with the view to saving lives of women who seek the service illegally.

Under the auspices of the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecology Society the doctors said the State should address abortion more objectively to improve the maternal mortality. While addressing a members’ gathering in Mombasa in February the Society chairman Dr Omondi Ogutu said maternal deaths could now be standing at double the official ratio of 141:100,000 yet most countries were now targeting a single digit ratio.

Reproductive Health

They called for the fast tracking of the Reproductive Health and Rights Bill which they say would address the abortion issue and cater for a wide range of issues including family planning and men’s reproductive rights .

To counter the increasing number of botched abortion Kigen says the Government has embarked on a programme to train staff on proper abortion care.

"The programme aims to address among other things post abortion care, strengthen family planning programmes especially targeting adolescent people in the reproductive age," he says.

The World Health Organisation, United Nations Population Fund, KWF and United States Agency for International Development, he says, support the effort.

RH Reality Check blog: Abortion Law Liberalised in Catholic Monaco

Abortion Law Liberalized in Catholic Monaco
By Anna Wilkowska-Landowska, RH Reality Check, Eastern Europe

June 5, 2009 - 8:00am

Last month, after five years of advocacy, Monaco approved a new law, which legalizes medically necessary abortions. Monaco was one of the last three states in Europe where abortion was illegal. The other two countries are Ireland and Malta.

The law was passed unanimously by the National Council, Monaco's parliament, in a 26-0 vote. This is significant because 90 percent of Monaco's population is formally Catholic. As generally known, the Roman Catholic Church believes that life begins at conception and opposes abortion under all circumstances. However, the modern Catholic position states a medical procedure needed to save the life of the mother, but that may result in the death of the "pre-born child" as a secondary effect, is morally acceptable.

Until now, Monaco has had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Under Monaco's Criminal Code, there were no stated exceptions to a general prohibition of abortion. Nonetheless, under general criminal law principles of necessity, an abortion could be performed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Any person performing an illegal abortion was subject to one to five years imprisonment and a fine. A woman who induced her own abortion or consented to its being induced was subject to six months to three years imprisonment and a fine. Physicians, surgeons, midwives and pharmacists who performed abortions were liable to harsher penalties including suspension from their profession.
The process of adopting a new bill calling for increased abortion access took years of struggling against religious beliefs. Like many other Catholic Church representatives, Archbishop Pernard Barsi of Monaco said there are a few fundamental principles that come not from religious morality, but from the natural law itself, that applies to all modern civilized societies: Life begins at conception. "What we term ‘interruption of pregnancy,' no matter what the motive is, remains an abortion. One of the most fundamental human rights is the integrity of the person at all stages of life. Civil law must never abridge the moral law," he said.

The Catholic Church in Monaco continuously claimed that permitting deliberate abortion for medical reasons or rape would inevitably lead to abortion on demand, and sooner or later, to the total liberalization of abortion. Barsi was pointing to the progression of laws permitting abortion in countries with no restrictions on the procedure. Instead of focusing on termination of pregnancies, he suggested looking closer at the problems faced by women and families dealing with difficult pregnancies, and called for increased support in society for them. "It's not by legalizing the 'interruption of pregnancies for medical motives or rape' that we will help women, couples and families. We must in fact accompany women by putting in place concrete measures within our institutions to foster solidarity," he said.

The new law permits abortion for "hard cases" including rape, fetal deformity, fetal illness or danger to the life of the mother. Catholic authorities argue that new regulations on termination of pregnancy are "incompatible" with the constitution of Monaco, which recognizes the Catholic faith as the state religion. They fear, for example, that there will be further attempts to conform Monaco to what they consider lowest ethical standards.

Adoption of the new bill on abortion in Monaco should be regarded as an important step on the way to providing sufficient guarantees for women within the area of reproductive rights. The fact that currently there are only two states in Europe where abortion is illegal and therefore totally prohibited, is a genuine proof that societies can change mentality, despite religious constraints that very often constitute serious obstacles when discussing controversial matters, especially abortion. Monaco serves as a perfect example.