Why A Pregnant 10-Year-Old Is Being Denied An Abortion

Photo: Peter Prengaman/AP Photo.
It's an unimaginably awful case — a 10-year-old girl is sexually assaulted by her stepfather and becomes pregnant. And, it gets worse, because Paraguay, her home country, prohibits all abortions unless a woman's life is in danger. Now, international human rights and health groups are condemning the government; both her mother and stepfather are in jail, and a little girl is five months pregnant.

This child's plight is the latest battle between national governments that are heavily influenced by the Catholic Church's unrelenting anti-abortion stance and the human rights of victims of sexual violence. On Monday, the Paraguayan government convened a panel to assess the girl's mental and physical health, but CNN reports that the Health Minister has already said that because the girl appears healthy now, the threat posed to her health from being forced to carry a pregnancy to term at such a young age is not enough to justify an abortion.

The United Nations issued a statement on Monday decrying the government's shoddy care of the girl and calling on officials to allow an abortion. “Despite requests made by the girl’s mother and medical experts to terminate this pregnancy, which puts the girl’s life at risk, the state failed to take measures to protect the health — as well as the physical and mental integrity — and even the life of the 10-year-old girl,” the statement said

It continued, “No proper interdisciplinary and independent expert assessment with the aim to insure the girl’s best interests was done before overturning life-saving treatments, including abortion.”

The details of this situation are horrifying, but they aren't unique. An Associated Press report found other examples of young girls who were victimized in Paraguay. One teen spoke of her own experiences being raped by her stepfather from age 9 until she was 14, when she finally found the courage to speak up. "If I had seen protests like this before, maybe I would have spoken up sooner, or maybe it wouldn't have happened to me," she told the AP.

Amnesty International official Guadalupe Marengo told CNN, "The physical and psychological impact of forcing this young girl to continue with an unwanted pregnancy is tantamount to torture."

Cases like this are a terrifying and all too real glimpse into what happens when essential reproductive health care procedures are banned. The girl's pregnancy is now at 22 weeks, which is past the cutoff of 20 weeks that has been approved by many state legislatures in the U.S. In developing countries, some 70,000 adolescents die during pregnancy or childbirth every year.

It's not yet clear what would happen if the Paraguayan government changed its ruling and decided to allow an abortion. A doctor in Brazil was excommunicated in 2009 for performing an abortion for a 9-year-old girl. The child's mother and the team that assisted with the abortion were also expelled from the church; the girl's rapist was not.
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