Last year the UNHRC decreed that access to abortion services was a human right (.pdf):
States parties must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, and where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or is not viable.
The problem with terms like “must provide X” in lists of human rights is it assumes there are people willing to provide X, unless they intend to force them at gunpoint. The right to education assumes there are enough teachers willing to do the job at the going rate. The right to an abortion assumes there are doctors willing to terminate a fetus. This assumption has run into hard reality in Argentina:
News that doctors performed a caesarean section on an 11-year-old rape victim has reignited a debate on Argentina’s abortion rules.
The girl became pregnant after being raped by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner and had requested an abortion.
Abortion is legal in Argentina in cases of rape or if the mother’s health is in danger, but in the case of the 11-year-old girl uncertainty about who her legal guardian was caused delays.
The girl’s mother agreed with her daughter’s wishes but because the girl had been placed in the grandmother’s care some time earlier, the mother’s consent was at first deemed not enough.
However, because the grandmother had been stripped of her guardianship for co-habiting with the rapist, she could not provide the necessary consent either.
By the time the issue had been settled, the girl was in the 23rd week of her pregnancy.
This is a horrendous case and one half of the problem ought to be solved using a dark cell, a sturdy padlock, and a one-time use key. The other part is more complicated:
Further problems surfaced when a number of doctors at the local hospital refused to carry out the procedure, citing their personal beliefs.
And therein lies the rub. What do you do? Personally, I think the young girl should have had her pregnancy terminated but then I’m not the one pulling the gloves on to do it. There is a prevailing opinion among swivel-eyed feminists who are largely childless that doctors should have no say in whether they carry out abortions; they liken any refusal on religious or moral grounds to be akin to refusing to operate on a black person. To some people, the concept of medical ethics and the Hippocratic oath simply don’t exist: if the state orders a doctor to carry out a procedure he or she must comply without question. No doubt Josef Mengele agrees. In this case, rather than carrying out an abortion, the doctors peformed a C-section instead:
On Tuesday, the health authorities in the northern state of Tucumán instructed the hospital director to follow a family judge’s decision and to carry out the “necessary procedures to attempt to save both lives”.
The family court which the statement quoted has since come forward to say it had made no mention of saving two lives.
The doctors who performed the C-section said they did so not because of the instruction to “save both lives” but because the abortion would have been too risky.
The baby is alive but doctors say it has little chance of surviving.
I suspect this isn’t true, and they carried out the C-section as a workable compromise to rid the girl of her unwanted baby while keeping their consciences clear. I expect they knew its chances of survival were slim, but preferred to let God decide its fate than take the decision for themselves. Personally I don’t see any issue with this even though it’s probably making things harder for the girl. Between that and the alternative – forcing doctors to carry out abortions – I believe they chose the lesser of two evils. Not everyone agrees, however:
But human rights groups Andhes puts the blame on the Tucumán state health authorities, and pro-choice groups have said that what happened to the girl amounted to “torture”.
Yes, the state bureaucracy has complicated the already-horrific situation but this sort of reaction isn’t helpful, and only serves to give the impression abortion advocates won’t be happy until doctors are forced to terminate pregnancies on demand for any reason even if the baby has been born alive. This seems to be the case in the US, where last week the senate voted down a bill which would oblige doctors to provide medical care to a child born alive after an attempted abortion. I guess they’ll just leave ’em in the corner to die instead.
Abortion is a contentious issue in Argentina and this latest incident comes six months after a divisive debate about whether abortions should be legalised in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
A bill to that effect was defeated in the senate, much to the dismay of pro-choice groups which had been campaigning for a loosening of the laws for years.
I suspect many Argentinians don’t want a loosening of the laws for having looked at the US and other western countries, they fear of where they may end up. As with many contentious issues, the hardline fanatics are making any sort of workable compromise more difficult, leading those they claim to care about to suffer needlessly. The UN throwing its weight behind the fanatics can hardly have helped. When does it ever?