An 11-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was raped by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner was forced to give birth after Argentine authorities refused to allow her an abortion.
The child, called “Lucia” to protect her identity, underwent a Cesarean section on Tuesday at 23 weeks of pregnancy after her request for an abortion was delayed by almost five weeks and doctors refused to carry out the procedure.
Doctors said the child’s baby is unlikely to survive.
Lucia, the youngest of three sisters, became pregnant after she was sexually abused by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner. She had been placed in her grandmother’s care in 2015 after her two older sisters had reportedly been abused by their mother’s partner, the Guardian reported.
The child first discovered she was pregnant on January 23 at a first-aid center in her hometown in the northern province of Tucuman, the Guardian reported. A week later, she was admitted to the Eva Peron hospital suffering from self-inflicted lesions from apparent suicide attempts.
Local media reported that Lucia was adamant from the beginning that she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, telling psychologists at the hospital: “I want this thing the old man put inside me taken out.”
Abortion is legal in Argentina in cases of rape or if the mother’s health is in danger.
Her requests for an abortion were delayed because of the uncertainty of the child’s guardianship. While Lucia’s mother agreed with her daughter’s request, her consent was at first deemed not enough because the child was in her grandmother’s care.
However, the child’s grandmother had been stripped of her guardianship for co-habiting with the rapist, which mean she could not provide the necessary consent either, the BBC reported.
By the time the issue was settled, the child was 23 weeks into the pregnancy.
A doctor told a family court that Lucia faces “high obstetric risk” should her pregnancy be allowed to continue.
On Tuesday, health authorities in Tucuman insisted the child did not want an abortion – a claim denied by activists – and instructed the hospital director to carry out “the necessary procedures to attempt to save both lives.”
“I am close to both the child and her mother,” Gustavo Vigliocco, Tucuman’s health secretary, said in a radio interview, according to the Guardian. “The child wants to continue her pregnancy. We are considering the risks but she has a large contexture, she weighs more than (110 pounds).”
The doctors who performed the procedure told reporters that they “saved the life of an 11-year-old girl who was tortured for a month by the provincial health system.”
“My legs trembled when I saw her, it was like seeing my younger daughter. The little girl didn’t understand completely what was going to happen,” Cecilia Ousset, the doctor who performed the procedure alongside her husband and fellow physician, Jorge Gijena, said.
The forced Cesarean section reignited debate over abortion, with women’s rights activists in Argentina claiming that everything that happened to Lucia was “torture.”
“There are those who tortured an 11-year-old rape victim in Tucuman. It’s dangerous they have such power and that we are able to prevent it,” writer Claudia Piñeiro tweeted.
Soledad Deza, of the Women for Women Association, said the right to health was not respected in this case.
“They put obstacles, barriers. A licit practice was delayed and the process of gestation was allowed to advance and ended where it ended,” she said, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, pro-life campaigners said the case illustrated their motto of “Save both Lives,” a rallying cry that has gathered strong support among anti-abortion activists.
“That defenseless and innocent human being is whom abortionists managed to pull from its mother’s womb in Tucumán, 24 weeks and premature. Now it lies with tubes attached and in risk of dying when 20 more days could have been allowed to pass to guarantee both lives. What b------s!” tweeted Mariano Obarrio, a journalist for Argentina’s leading daily La Nación, a newspaper that has declared itself against legal abortion in Argentina.
This latest incident comes six months after an attempt to legalize the practice lost by a slim margin last August when Argentina’s senate voted to leave in the place a law from 1921 that penalizes women who undergo an abortion with up to four years in prison.
The Health Ministry estimated in 2016 that the country sees as many as half a million clandestine abortions each year, with dozens of women dying as a result. Activists estimate that 3,030 women in Argentina have died of illegal abortions since 1983.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.