Debating Rape-Related Abortion in Peru

Camila Gianella

FXB fellow Camila Gianella

Abortion in Cases of Rape: Toward A Sincere Debate

By Camila Gianella

October 28, 2014. According to the last Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) conducted in Peru, 2.8 percent of women aged 15 to 49 who were in a relationship reported having been raped by their partners in the last 12 months. When projected to encompass the general population, this indicates that around 128,307 Peruvian women in that age range alone are raped each year.

This figure does not include rapes by those who are not partners—fathers, brothers, cousins, aunts, friends, teachers, bosses, colleagues, or strangers—or those suffered by girls under 15 and women over 49. Also, underreporting is not taken into account. In a region like Latin America, where only around 5 percent of rape cases are reported in any case, most victims are unlikely to report to a total stranger, such as a survey interviewer.   Furthermore, for victims, this highly sensitive issue only becomes more so when the perpetrator is a partner or family member.

Many of these rapes result in unwanted pregnancies. According to some studies, this is the case roughly 3-5 percent of the time. Projecting the lower estimation to the DHS data for Peru gives a figure of 3,978 unwanted pregnancies. Note that this figure applies only to cases of rape reported in the DHS. There is no data on unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape specifically for Peru, but the percentage of rapes that result in an unwanted pregnancy in that country could be higher than that reported by studies from US and Europe. This can be attributed to the fact that most are perpetrated within the household or by someone the victim knows, meaning that victims are exposed to long-lasting periods of sexual abuse, which increases the possibility of getting pregnant.

The drama of rape cannot be converted into a battle of numbers. However, for some, a problem of numbers is just what it is. In Peru, statistics on rape and unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape are frequently quoted to defend positions on prevalence (both by those arguing that rape is a problem requiring policy solutions and those arguing that it is not). Numbers are also bandied about in debates on the question of allowing access to abortion in cases of rape. The debate is especially sensitive right now because a draft law that would allow women to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape has been presented to the Peruvian Congress.

If numbers are required to debate access to abortion in cases of rape in Peru, there is a need for more research and more accurate data. Those opposed to abortion in such cases should not be able to use a lack of strong data as an excuse to avoid the discussion. Doing so not only denies the evidence that already exists but ignores the suffering that thousands of women and girls in Peru endure every year.

This debate is necessary. However, it must be built on constructive arguments on how to improve access to care for victims of sexual abuse. One key factor in providing access is the participation of victims in decision making. A core feature of sexual abuse is that victims go through an experience where they have lost the capacity to make decisions about their own bodies. Society must give back to survivors the capacity to take this fundamental decision.

There is no evidence to suggest that the legalization of abortion in cases of rape would force women to abort. On the contrary, the aim of the Peruvian draft law is to allow women to decide. This decision must be an informed decision. Women and girls must receive required counseling.   This implies that Peruvian authorities must allocate more resources for survivors of rape and provide them with essential care.

 The complete version of this op-ed was published in Spanish at NoticiasSer.pe: http://www.noticiasser.pe/22/10/2014/informe/aborto-en-casos-de-violacion-sexual-sincerando-el-debate.

About the Author
Camila Gianella. MSc, PhD, is a visiting fellow at the FXB Center. She comes from the Department of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen, where she is a postdoctoral fellow working on a project entitled “Sexual and Reproductive Rights Lawfare: Global Battles over Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Driving Forces and Impacts. Dr. Gianella is also working on a related project: International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Lawfare. This project investigates sexual and reproductive rights cases before international courts and treaty bodies. Prior to receiving her PhD from the University of Bergen, Camila worked as a researcher and consultant for projects on maternal health, the right to health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, mental health, and transitional justice.