An 11-Year-Old in Argentina Was Raped. A Hospital Denied Her an Abortion.
BUENOS AIRES — The 11-year-old made her wishes clear: She wanted to end the pregnancy that resulted from a rape at the hands of her grandmother’s boyfriend.
“I want you to remove what the old man put inside me,” the girl told doctors, according to her lawyers.
The law was on her side; rape is among the few instances in which women in Argentina may legally have an abortion.
But authorities in her northern province stalled for weeks, forcing the girl to have a C-section on Wednesday, delivering a baby who experts say is unlikely to survive. The case has reignited a fierce debate over reproductive rights in Argentina, which last year came close to legalizing abortion for pregnancies up to 14 weeks.
Coming weeks after a similar case in another northern province, in which a 12-year-old girl was forced to undergo a C-section to deliver a baby who survived four days, the latest birth underscored the challenges girls and women in Argentina face when they seek to have abortions.
As outrage over the latest case spread across the nation, Argentine women flooded social media with photos of themselves as 11-year-olds, posted with the hashtag #NiñasNoMadres, which means “girls, not mothers.”
Among them was Thelma Fardin, a prominent actress who set off a national conversation about sexual harassment and abuse last year when she accused a co-star of raping her when she was 16 and he was 45.
The 11-year-old girl, whose lawyers refer to as Lucía, a pseudonym, went to a clinic in a rural area of Tucumán Province on Jan. 29 after experiencing a severe stomach ache for several days.
Doctors discovered she was 19 weeks pregnant and sent her to a public hospital in Banda del Río Salí, just outside the provincial capital, two days later. Authorities say the girl became pregnant after being raped by her grandmother’s boyfriend, who has been arrested.
At the hospital, Lucía and her mother made clear that they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. Over the following days, the girl and her relatives were caught up the nation’s abortion wars as local officials and activists took steps to stop her from having an abortion.
Abortion is illegal in Argentina. But for nearly a century, it has been allowed in cases of rape and in instances in which the pregnancy poses a life-threatening risk to the mother.
Yet, instead of arranging for her to terminate the pregnancy, officials at the hospital gave Lucía drugs that accelerated the development of the fetus, according to her lawyers.
“These were all delaying tactics to pass the time and force the girl to give birth,” said Celia Debono, the Argentina coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights. “They said they were giving her vitamins when they were giving her medication to mature the fetus.”
Meanwhile, the hospital allowed anti-abortion activists to visit Lucía’s hospital room, where they urged her to have the baby, warning that she otherwise would never get to be a mother, said Fernanda Marchese, the executive director of Human Rights and Social Studies Lawyers of Northeastern Argentina, which is representing Lucía and her family.
While Lucía remained hospitalized, provincial authorities released little information about the case. As they grew restless, relatives of the girl sent an email to Ni Una Menos, a group that fights violence against women and has become a leading voice in an effort to legalize abortion.
When lawyers from the group arrived at Lucía’s bedside on Monday, “we were faced with a situation that was desperate and anguishing,” Ms. Marchese said. “The family was not given the proper information to be able to exercise its rights.”
Reproductive rights groups filed emergency lawsuits that led to a court order instructing the hospital to carry out an abortion at once. Yet, doctors there refused, declaring themselves conscientious objectors.
A pair of private-sector doctors agreed to terminate the pregnancy at the request of the hospital. Because the pregnancy was so far along and the girl had a slight frame, the doctors saw no choice but to perform a C-section, said Cecilia Ousset, who performed the procedure with her husband, José Gigena.
“When we were faced with this girl, I almost became sick, my knees turned weak,” Dr. Ousset said. “She wasn’t developed and was playing with toys and her mom.”
In the operating room, Dr. Ousset put on music to try to make Lucía more comfortable, but the girl’s blood pressure rose to a perilous level.
“The girl’s life was at risk,” Dr. Ousset said during a phone interview.
Genetic material from the umbilical cord will now be analyzed and could serve as proof to prosecute the man charged with raping Lucía.
Lucía is healthy and should be discharged from the hospital soon, Ms. Debono said.
Abortion-rights activists have long said that there is so much pressure from anti-abortion sectors that some doctors refuse to carry out the procedure, afraid of legal and professional reprisal.
After the procedure was finished, a group of anti-abortion activists protested outside the hospital, as they had done for weeks.
Many of these activists appear to have become involved by heeding the call of the archbishop of Tucumán, Carlos Sánchez, who sent out a mass audio message using a cellphone text messaging app in which he used Lucía’s real name and called on the faithful to “guard” the life of the fetus.
Catholic and evangelical leaders have aggressively fought efforts to legalize abortion.
Provincial authorities have denied any wrongdoing. But since the case began making headlines this week, Gov. Juan Manzur’s administration and judicial officials have traded blame for the way in which the case was handled.
A news release issued by the local health ministry about the case said the C-section was intended to “save the two lives,” echoing a slogan used by activists who oppose legalizing abortion.
Although the case has gained notoriety, many say it reflects a reality in parts of Argentina.
“In the north of Argentina,” Dr. Ousset said, “there are lots of Lucías and there are lots of professionals who turn their back on them.”