Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for many women in poorer countries. But in many parts of Latin America, the law makes this situation even worse. Cruel new abortion legislation is killing or inflicting lifelong damage on women in half a dozen countries every day.
Incredibly, some of the emerging democracies in the region are demoting women's rights: passing retrogressive legislation that criminalises abortion. Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have recently joined Chile, El Salvador and Honduras in making abortion – even to save the mother's life – a crime that carries a prison sentence.
Now, international condemnation is growing: if we add our voice to the mounting protests against these laws, there is hope of change for women in Latin America.
A 13-year-old's life destroyed
One teenager in Peru, known as LC, was raped for the first time when she was just 11, and subsequently became the target of frequent sexual assaults by men in her neighbourhood. At 13, she was pregnant.
Confused and desperate, LC jumped from the roof of a building, hoping to end her own life. Hours later, she was picked up off the ground and taken to a hospital. You can hear LC tell her story (in Spanish with subtitles in English).
In the hospital's emergency room, it was decided that LC was in danger of total paralysis if she did not undergo an urgent operation on her spine. But surgeons refused to perform the procedure, claiming that it would endanger the foetus and therefore be illegal. LC's mother tried everything, including filing a formal request for authorisation of a therapeutic abortion. This, after all, was her 13-year-old daughter's only hope of walking again.
In Peru, abortion is legal if it is performed in order to save a woman's life or health. But in practice only about 10 per cent of women who need life- or health-saving abortions undergo the procedure. Uncertainty over the law means that doctors refuse abortions even for young girls who have been raped.
In most of Latin America abortion is criminalised to some degree. Generally, the restrictions leave doctors reluctant or too afraid to practise even legal, therapeutic abortions, forcing desperate women and girls like LC into life-threatening choices – detailed in a shocking report from human rights group Amnesty.
Peru time to act
Peruvian women are 20 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women in western Europe. It's believed that hundreds of the country's women die each year because the government refuses to clarify the law or implement legal abortions. Tragically, illegal abortions are now the third most common indirect cause of death for pregnant women.
But the government can put an end to these unnecessary deaths and blighted lives. First, a national protocol for legal abortions must be approved and implemented by the Ministry of Health. Second, as recommended by the UN, Peru must relax abortion laws for victims of rape, ensuring these women safe and legal operations.
We can add to the mounting pressure on health minister Carlos Alberto Tejada Noriega from doctors' organisations, the women's movement and even the government ombudsman, all of which are demanding that he authorise a national protocol for therapeutic abortions. At the moment Peruvian women are second-class citizens, with their health and safety regarded as secondary rights. The same issues blight lives in much of Latin America. This must change.
What happened to LC?
LC lost the baby while in hospital – but by then it was too late to save her spine. As doctors predicted, she is totally paralysed from the hips down and can barely move her hands. But she's added her voice to the call for decent, humane medical treatment for pregnant women at risk in Peru. We can answer LC's plea; we can help protect women across Latin America.
Take action: You can help raise funds for LC in her legal battle against the Peruvian government.