Monday, May 11, 2015

Abortion Debate Intensifies in Southern Cone

The abortion issue is a very sensitive and divisive topic in many areas around the world. This has certainly been the case recently in several countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone region.
  • Paraguay
On Monday police in Paraguay transferred to a prison the alleged rapist stepfather of a ten-year-old girl who sought an abortion.

“I never touched her,” said 42-year-old Benitez Gilberto Zarate after he was arrested last Saturday. He denied sexually abusing his stepdaughter and has requested a DNA test in an attempt to clear his name. Yet he was on the run for nearly a month after prosecutors accused him of impregnating the girl who was first seen by doctors in Asuncion on April 21st.

The child’s mother was detained on April 27th and charged with breaching duty of care of her daughter. In January 2014 she denounced her husband for sexually abusing the girl but the authorities allegedly took no action. Earlier this month she requested permission to seek an abortion for her daughter where the procedure is allowed if the mom’s life is in danger. Yet Paraguayan courts rejected the solicitation much to the satisfaction of the federal government.

Health Minister Antonio Barrios on May 4th insisted that the doctors are closely monitoring the girl’s health and declared his opposition to abortion. He further argued that performing such a procedure might be too late.

It is impossible because the girl arrived in our hands in the 21st week of pregnancy. The abortion should have been done prior to the twentieth week. We are now in the 23rd week,” said Barrios.

Paraguayan feminists and reproductive rights groups believe that the child’s life is certainly at risk and that her mother has been unfairly punished for seeking the abortion.

“When you consider the threat to life and the anatomical and psychological risks, the first step that should be taken in pregnancies of girls under the age of 13 should be an abortion. This is what the authorities fail to understand,” asserted Lilian Soto, an activist at the Centro de Documentación y Estudios.

The abortion case has also caught the attention of international rights groups and entities. The European Union is “closely following the evolution” of the girl’s health and called for the “global protection…of the rights of children.” A panel of U.N. human rights experts blamed the Paraguayan government for refusing to provide the proper treatment for the pregnant girl.

“Every day in Paraguay and average of two girls between the ages of ten and fourteen give birth to a child,” said UNICEF official Andrea Cid. “These cases are a consequence of sexual abuse and, in most situations, from constant abuse where victims have not received opportune assistance,” she added.

[Read about the abortion debate in Uruguay and Chile below the page break].

  • Uruguay
An Uruguayan magistrate on May 8th refused to permit grant an abortion to an 11-year-old girl with a mental illness who was allegedly raped by a man thirty years her senior.

Judge Raquel Gini opted to defer the decision of whether or not to terminate the pregnancy to the child, her mother and her doctors.

According to Gini, the girl who is in the fifteenth week of pregnancy wishes to give birth as well as continue her relation with the accused sexual abuser. Gini noted that the pregnancy doesn’t put the child’s health at risk but did acknowledge that the girl “lacks the mental capacity to comprehend the consequences of her pregnancy, motherhood and her ties to a man three times her age.”

“Children…have the right to have their voices heard in these types of decisions but ultimately it’s up to adults to take the correct action, affirmed Marisa Lindner, head of the Uruguayan Institute for Children and Teenagers.

Uruguay has one of the most open abortion laws in Latin America in that the procedure is legal if the mother is in her first trimester. The country did not report a single fatality from clandestine abortions even though an estimated 30% of doctors object to performing that procedure. A report from the Mujer y Salud nongovernment organization found that women interested in undergoing an abortion and residing in provinces with a high number of objecting doctors like Paysandú and Río Negro must search from clinic to clinic or travel thousands of miles to Montevideo.

“(These doctors) are committed to a recourse that should not be. They claim that (performing an abortion) is a conflict with the spiritual beliefs and professional values yet the high percentage of doctors opposed to abortion doesn’t reflect the level of religiousness of Uruguayan society,” claimed Mujer y Salud activist Lilián Abracinskas.
  • Chile
A series of satirical ads have shined a late on Chile’s strict abortion laws where the procedure is banned under all circumstances.

The “Abortion Tutorials” were released in April and teaches how to perform “accidental abortions” by falling down a staircase or throwing oneself into traffic. (In another one of the videos, which we embedded at the top of the article, the narrator shows how tripping onto a fire hydrant can lead to an “accidental abortion”).

“In Chile an accidental abortion is the only kind of abortion that is not considered a crime,” reads the tagline of the videos that picked up at least 1.5 million views.

The non-profit Guttmacher Institute believes that approximately 166,000 abortions are done every year in Chile. According to government data an average of 33,000 abortions are performed yearly in hospital though only 310 cases were investigated and tried from 2011 to 2012.

“We don’t have 33,000 people in jail every year, so that’s at least curious,” said Leslie Nicholls, the staff psychologist at the Miles Organization that was behind the videos.

“For people in Chile, if you have money or contacts with doctors, you can get the procedure with sanitary conditions. But if you don’t have money or contacts you have to ask for an illegal procedure that can put you in severe health risk,” Nicholls added.

President Michelle Bachelet last January proposed a partial decriminalization of the total ban on abortion that was initially approved during the Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military rule in 1989.

Her plan would allow first trimester abortions only if the if the mother's life is at risk, the fetus will not survive the pregnancy or in cases of rape. For girls under the age of 14, however, abortion would be allowed under the aforementioned criteria but within the first eighteen weeks of pregnancy.

YouTube Source – MILES Chile

Online Sources (English) – The Daily Beast, BBC News, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, CNN

Online Sources (Spanish) –, La Republica Online, Ultimas Noticias, Diario de Navarra,, Diario ABC Color

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