ARGENTINA: Court decriminalises abortion in rape cases

Summary: The Supreme Court in Argentina has ruled that women who have an abortion after being raped will no longer be prosecuted.

Under Argentine law, abortion is only allowed in cases where the mother's life or health are at risk, or if the woman is deemed "of feeble mind".

The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court's decision to allow a 15-year-old rape victim to terminate her pregnancy.

An estimated 500,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Argentina each year.

The Supreme Court unanimously backed the decision by the Superior Court in the southern province of Chubut to allow the 15-year-old girl, who had become pregnant after years of sexual abuse by her stepfather, to terminate her pregnancy.

The case caused outrage in Argentina, partly because of the length of time it took the lower court to reach its decision.

By the time the ruling in favour of an abortion was made, the girl was 20 weeks into her pregnancy.

Controversial law

At the centre of the controversy was Section 2, Article 86 of the Argentine penal code, which says that abortion is not a punishable act "if the pregnancy stems from a rape or an attack on the modesty of a woman of feeble mind".

Some judges interpreted the sentence to mean abortions were only allowed in cases in which a woman "of feeble mind" was raped.

Others argued it meant no woman should be punished for having an abortion after she was raped.

The Supreme Court also ruled that in future, women would not have to seek judicial permission to get an abortion if they had been raped.

The judges said a sworn statement given to the doctor would suffice.

The Supreme Court is Argentina's highest judicial instance and its decision can not be appealed against.

Dangerous practice

However, the judges said that their decision was not part of a discussion about the legalisation of abortion in Argentina, but just a clarification of existing laws.

They said that debate would have to be carried out in Congress.

Activists have long called for a legalisation of abortion, citing the country's high maternal mortality rate as a sign that the current policies of criminalising abortion do not work.

According to a 2010 report by the pressure group Human Rights Watch, between 400,000 and 600,000 women have illegal abortions in Argentina every year.

Campaigners say many women, particularly young girls, run high risks by terminating their pregnancies under unsanitary or dangerous conditions.

Related cases

pdf: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17360739

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