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Peru: The Abortion Debate

The abortion debate in Peru has reemerged due to a bill that has been approved in the Special Committee of the Penal Code in the Peruvian Congress, which would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or congenital disorders in the fetus. This type of abortion is known as eugenic abortion, as well as therapeutic abortion. The Roman Catholic Church is opposing this measure [es], and it is also causing divided opinions among the Ministerial Cabinet. However, the debate is far from over, as the proposal still needs to be submitted by the Committee of the Congressional President for debate during the month of December.

The current Peruvian legislation (Penal Code 1991) stipulates [es] (.pdf format) the criminalization of all forms of abortion, except for therapeutic and includes such mitigating figures, as the ethical or sentimental abortion, and eugenic abortion. Even though there are no trustworthy official figures about abortion, it is estimated that there are between 350,000 and 400,000 abortions each year [es] in Peru.

Protests for and against the decriminalization of abortion have already reached the streets of the capital city Lima [es], and since the debate still has a long way to go, the protests are expected to remain for more months. Surveys show that opinions are almost equal regarding the issue, and the digital survey conducted by Peru.com [es] shows that 54% believe that eugenic abortion due to congenital disorders and rape should not be decriminalized, and 43% believe that it should be. Another survey conducted by the company Apoyo [es] for the newspaper El Comercio shows similar results: “53% disapproves of abortion when the pregnancy is the result of rape. 41% approves. 48% say no to abortion when the fetus shows defects. 46% state that they agree.”

This national controversy has also had repercussions abroad, but it is on the internet where there are many opinions, for example in Foros Perú (Peru Forums) there is a thread called “Eugenic Abortion. Are you For or Against? [es]” There is also discussion from bloggers, such as Isabel Guerra of La Burbujas Recargadas [es], who states her position on the issue:

creo que la principal razón por la que me opongo (al aborto) es porque la muerte es irreversible. No tiene retorno. Abortar o aplicar la eutanasia, o enviar a alguien al patíbulo, son generalmente situaciones a las que se llega bajo un tremendo estrés, en las que se llega a sentir que esto es la única solución. Ojo, que digo sentir, no pensar, porque cuando uno está pasando alguna de esas situaciones extremas es muy fácil no pensar con claridad, es terriblemente fácil equivocarse.

Hay muchísimos testimonios (libros, páginas web, etc.) de mujeres que abortaron y que años después se arrepintieron. Les dijeron que con un aborto se libraban de un problema en media hora. Pero no les dijeron que el recuerdo no las abandonaría nunca. Y cuando años después se arrepintieron, ya no había vuelta atrás. Lo que tienen casi todos estos testimonios en común es que las mujeres señalan que no recibieron ninguna ayuda, y que de una u otra forma fueron inducidas, por las circunstancias, por la desesperación o por terceras personas, a creer que el aborto era la única salida.

I think the principal reason that I oppose (abortion) is because it is an irreversible death. There is no return. Abortion or euthanasia or sending someone to the gallows are generally situations that one arrives to under tremendous stress, where one feels that it is the only solution. I say feel, and not think, because when one is going through one of these extreme situations it is very easy to not think with clarity, and it is terribly easy to make a mistake.

There are many testimonies (books, website, etc.) from women who had an abortion and years later regret the decision. They told them that with the abortion that they will free themselves from the problem in half an hour. They did not tell that the memory will never leave them. Years later when they regret the decision, there was no way to turn back. What all of these testimonies have in common is that the women say that they did not receive any help, and that in one way or another they were induced, by the circumstances, by the desperation, or by third-party persons, to think that abortion was the only exit.

Daniel Salas of the blog Gran Combo Club [es] describes the problem's ethics from an opposing position:

La discusión sobre el aborto no debería estar enfocada en las motivaciones terapéuticas, ya que estos criterios crean severas contradicciones. Por ejemplo, conozco algunas personas que se oponen al aborto por razones morales pues consideran que el óvulo fecundado debe ya ser considerado una persona pero, a la vez, admiten que hay ciertos casos (como la violación o malformaciones severas) que pueden justificar tal práctica. Si el aborto fuese injustificable e inmoral, no debería tener excepciones, ni siquiera como respuesta posible a una violación, ya que el nuevo ser debería ser considerado enteramente independiente de tal acto que le dio origen; tampoco se debería permitir en casos de que el embarazo pudiera causar la muerte de la madre, ya que el niño por nacer, con todos sus derechos plenamente constituidos, no podría ser considerado responsable de tal consecuencia.

Entonces, quien admita que el aborto es admisible “en ciertos casos” o “bajo ciertas condiciones” debería reconocer que la inviolabilidad de la vida humana aplicada a un feto no es tan absoluta como en principio se anunciaba. La discusión debería estar, en cambio, enfocada en dos cuestiones de índole ética, a saber:

1. El derecho que posee la mujer de continuar con el embarazo de un ser que depende enteramente de ella.
2. La posibilidad de otorgarle al no nacido los mismos derechos que a un nacido.

The abortion discussion should not be focused on therapeutic motivations, because those criteria create severe contradictions. For example, I know some people who oppose abortion for moral reasons and consider that the fertilized egg should already be considered a person, but also at the same tie, admit that there are certain cases (like rape or severe defects) that can justify the abortion. If abortion was unjustifiable and immoral, then there should be no exceptions, not even as an answer to a possible rape, and the new human being should be considered independent of the act that created it; it should also not be permitted in cases where the pregnancy could cause the death of the mother, because the child to be born, with all of its constituted rights, cannot be considered responsible for the consequence.

Therefore, those that admit that abortion is admissible in “certain cases” or “under certain conditions” should recognize that the inviolability of human life applied to a fetus is not as absolute as originally announced. The debate should be, instead, focused on two ethical issues:

1. The woman's right to continue with the pregnancy depends entirely upon her.
2. The possibility of granting the unborn the same rights of one born.

In the blog Tinta Roja [es], Cristina Andrade adds her grain of sand to the debate stating the problem of informality that prevails in the country:

otro problema en esta posible legalización del aborto, es la criollada, la ilegalidad de algunos médicos, quienes bajo el pretexto de que la muerte de la madre peligra, o que es un bebé con malformaciones, falsearán exámenes y documentos, para justificar el aborto, claro dependiendo de cuanto les paguen, porque en este país todo se compra, todo se vende y lamentablemente como existen médicos buenos, también hay malos y sin ninguna ética, quienes por dinero son capaces de todo.

Esos son los riesgos de legalizar el aborto, estamos en el Perú, no en Europa ni otros países civilizados en los que la ética, los valores y las leyes se respetan. Aquí siempre están buscando como violar las normas, así que en ese sentido, creo que sería muy peligroso legalizar el aborto.

Another problem with this possible legalization of abortion is the local nature, the illegal practice of some doctors, who under the pretext of the possibility of the mother's death, or a baby with defects, falsify tests and documents, to justify the abortion, of course depending on how much they are paid, because in this country everything can be bought, everything is sold, and unfortunately , as there are good doctors, there are also bad doctors with no ethics, who are capable of doing anything.

Those are the risks of legalizing abortion, we are in Peru, not in Europe or other civilized countries where ethics, values, and laws are respected. Here, they are always looking for ways to violate the rules, so in that sense, I think it would be very dangerous to legalize abortion.

The post generated a lot of posts, and Andrade adds in another post [es]:

Leer los comentarios a favor y en contra en mi primer post, solo me han hecho llegar a una conclusión: la mujer debe tener la libertad de decidir si aborta o no. Y creanme, yo no estoy a favor del aborto, pero tampoco puedo obligar a alguien a pensar como yo. Es sencillo, en mi caso, por mas que despenalicen el aborto, no lo haría, porque mi convicción, mi forma de ser no lo permitiría. Es decir, quien está en contra del aborto, simplemente no lo hará, con o sin ley a favor o en contra, simplemente no lo hará. En todo caso, quienes piensan distinto, tienen la libertad de decidir, y no ser juzgadas.

Reading the comments for and against, only have made me reach a conclusion: the woman should have the freedom to decide to have an abortion or not. Believe me, I am not in favor of abortion, but I cannot force anyone to think like me. It is simple, in my case, if they decriminalize abortion, I would not have one, because of my convictions, my way of thinking would not allow it. In other words, those who are against abortion, simply would not do it, with or without a law for or against, they simply would not have one. Those who think differently have the freedom to decide and not be judged.

Laura Arroyo of the blog Menoscanas [es] cites the need for debate and respect for differing opinions:

El problema en este país es justamente que somos incapaces de reconocer en la opinión distinta de la propia una opinión válida. Problematizar temas polémicos como el aborto, la eutanasia, preguntarnos si el Estado debiera ser o no laico, etc. es, en buena cuenta permitir que se desarrolle la democracia. En ese sentido, ¡a buena hora el tema del aborto ha sido puesto en la mesa!

The problem in this country is that we are incapable of recognizing the differing opinion from a valid opinion. To make problems out of controversial issues like abortion, euthanasia, asking ourselves if the State should be lay or not, etc. is, on good account to allow the development of democracy. In this sense, it is about time that the issue of abortion be placed on the table!

Regarding the debate, Daniel Salas of GranComboClub [es] asks the following:

Un asunto en este debate al que nadie ha podido responder es qué se entiende exactamente por penalizar el aborto.

Con la penalización del aborto hay una enorme discrepancia entre el discurso que lo sanciona y el castigo que reciben efectivamente quienes lo ejecutan. Así, quienes se oponen a despenalizar el aborto sostienen que la interrupción voluntaria de un embarazo equivale a un homicidio. La consecuencia práctica de tal juicio debería ser que las personas involucradas en el aborto, incluyendo la madre, reciban la misma condena que recibe quien asesina a un nacido. Esto, sin embargo, no ocurre. Una madre que asesina a sus hijos va a la cárcel y recibe mucha publicidad en los medios.

Pero una mujer que aborta no.

Este tipo de discrepancias revelan las verdaderas intenciones de la ley. … controlar la capacidad de las mujeres de tomar decisiones sobre su cuerpo. Permitimos que el aborto se practique, pero no de manera abierta porque esto último daría demasiada libertad a las mujeres en una decisión que sentimos que afecta el sostenimiento de la sociedad.

One issue in this debate that no one has been able to answer is what exactly is meant by criminalizing abortion.

With the criminalization of abortion, there is a huge discrepancy between the discourse that sanctions and the punishment to those who are actually carrying them out. So those who oppose the decriminalization of abortion contend that the voluntary interruption of pregnancy is equivalent to murder. The practical consequence of such a trial should be that people involved in abortion, including the mother, receive the same sentence that one who murders a born person receives. This, however, does not happen. A mother who murders her children goes to jail and receives much publicity in the media.

But a woman who aborts does not.

Such discrepancies reveal the true intentions of the law. … control the ability of women to make decisions about her body. We allow abortions to be carried out, but not in an open manner because that would give too much freedom to women in a decision that we feel that affects the sustainability of society.

For David Ramos of the blog Yo, (DASH) [es], there are not many worthwhile arguments:

las organizaciones feministas y pro-elección, en general, parecen considerar que el ser humano inicia su vida con el nacimiento. Antes de eso, solo era poco más que un riñón. Vale anotar que no hay ciencia que sustente esto, más que una frívola y equívoca percepción de la realidad: no te veo, por lo tanto no existes.

la defensa de la vida debe ser prioridad: así como defendemos delfines, perritos callejeros, flora y fauna amazónica, con mayor razón debemos defender la vida humana en cualquiera de sus etapas. Ningún honor hay en defender más la vida de una foca o de una ballena que la de un congénere humano.

The feminist and pro-choice organizations, in general, appear to consider that a human begins life at birth. Before that, it was only a little more than a kidney. It is worth noting that there is no science that, other than a frivolous and erroneous perception of reality: if I cannot see you, therefore, you do not exist.

The defense of life should be a priority: just as we defend the dolphins, street dogs, Amazonian flora and fauna, and with more reason we should defend human life in any of its stages. There is no honor in defending the life of a seal or a whale more than a fellow human.

As is clear from the views above, the positions on abortion are difficult to reconcile. It is understandable because the discussion revolves around life, ethics, morals, values, science, with decisions based on practicality and privacy. On the other hand, there are many material interests at stake. The debate will continue, and even more so with the recent announcement of the State ban by the Constitutional Court for the free distribution of the “morning after pill.” [es] It is obvious that things will not calm down.

Translation by Eduardo Ávila

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