Abortion as a human right: the case of Karen Noelia Llontoy vs. Peru

About the author
Jessica Reed was participation editor for openDemocracy between November 2006 and February 2008.


Abortion as a human right

A lot of the speakers at the Global Safe Abortion Conference addressed the right to safe abortion as a human right.

Luisa Cabal, director of the Center for Reproductive Rights' International Legal Program, underlined the fact that human rights are a universal language, a common ground to build on, and a tool for governments to save women's lives. [more...]

The declaration issued at the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 states that reproductive rights are human rights. CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) has declared that to deny access to health services that only women need is discriminatory, and therefore recommended that governments make abortion accessible (meaning they should not hinder access to providers).

The case of Karen Llontoy vs. Peru

Unfortunately, many countries still do not facilitate access to abortion providers, and women seeking to terminate a pregnancy face many barriers.

In Peru, therapeutic abortion is only allowed in order to save the life of the woman and to preserve the health of the woman. The therapeutic abortion is admitted when the state feels as though it will be shamed for denying the importance of the life of the mother or there is risk of a serious and permanent detriment to health; in practice it is as if all abortions are illegitimate and therefore few are performed.

This happened to Karen Noelia Llotoy, a 17 year-old Peruvian woman who was denied access to a therapeutic abortion and was forced by state officials to carry a fatally impaired foetus to term. She eventually gave birth to the baby, who died two days after birth. The case was brought to the United Nations Human Rights Committee with the help of DEMUS (a women's rights NGO based in Peru) whom we briefly talked to yesterday (our conference podcast will be posted on openDemocracy soon).

DEMUS has requested that "the Peruvian State recognizes the violation of rights committed, and therefore accepts that the right to the health of women, that justifies therapeutic abortion, includes as much the physical health as the mental health".

Indeed, the state has not yet complied with the opinion of the Committee of Human Rights, but the case has nevertheless been instrumental and of crucial importance for NGOs campaigning for women's rights. A change of attitude of the Peruvian population regarding abortion has taken place. According to DEMUS in 2005 41.6% of Lima's population was in favour of abortion to avoid the birth of children with malformations. In 2007 that figure has risen to 57.4%.

We exchanged a few words with Karen - the shy and strikingly young-looking woman was at the conference as both an activist and representative of Peruvian women seeking to exercise their right, and was happy to grant us a podcast interview to make people aware of her experience. Even though the ordeal was understandably extremely traumatic for her, she was happy to share her story and hoped to see things progressively change in her country.