Peruvian Congress approves law to ensure unborn children’s rights

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(OSV News) — The Peruvian Congress approved a law Nov. 9 that establishes that human life begins with conception, so a conceived, unborn child must have his or her rights protected from the beginning. Until then, the legislation determined that only after birth are people subjects of law in Peru.

The law establishes that the conceived, unborn child has his or her own identity — including a unique and unrepeatable genetic identity — and a personality which is independent from his or her mother. He or she has the right to dignity, to life and to integrity like any individual human being.

While pro-life activists celebrated the new law’s approval all over the South American country, they know that the struggle to make it really effective will go on for a long time. Many fear it might be considered a “declaratory,” ineffective piece of legislation.

Protecting life

The bill was first introduced two years ago by Congresswoman Milagros Aguayo, an evangelical pastor and a member of Renovación Popular (Popular Renewal), a conservative party. In April it was approved in Congress, but the executive powers made some changes in it afterward. It came back to Congress, where it was finally approved with 72 votes to 26 votes opposed (and six abstentions) Nov. 9.

“That law opens a new phase in the struggle against abortion in Peru. Administrative measures that currently favor the execution of abortions must now be revised and suspended. We must be vigilant,” said Father Pablo Augusto Meloni, a prestigious physician and a priest who is famous for his pro-life struggle.

Father Meloni alluded to the only possibility of performing legal abortions in Peru now, the so-called therapeutic abortion, allowed by law when the mother’s health conditions are endangered by pregnancy. The technical parameters that define the circumstances in which it can be done are set by a ministerial resolution, which Meloni and other pro-life activists consider to be abusive.

He said that pro-abortion groups have been gradually infiltrating state structures and advancing mechanisms to promote different kinds of abortion. Public clinics, for instance, offer emergency contraception methods such as the so-called morning-after pills — “which are really abortive,” the priest lamented.

Combatting abortion legalization

At the same time, a number of schemes have been continually employed to manipulate the public opinion and make abortion appear as something legitimate, Father Meloni said.

“Under the name of integral sexual education, school classes have been promoting that ideology of death. The curricula must be changed,” he told OSV News.

While countries like Argentina, Colombia and Mexico recently decriminalized abortion and others, like Brazil, allow it in a number of circumstances, Peru is one of the most restrictive nations when it comes to abortion in Latin America.

Pro-life movements fear, nevertheless, that the groups which want to legalize abortion in Peru will keep abusing the current legal possibilities in order to expand the practice. That is why they viewed the law to protect the rights of the conceived, unborn child as an important victory.

40 Days for Life in Peru

“This year we have already had 10 of the so-called therapeutic abortions performed in Peru. That law came at a good moment,” said Susan Vargas, who heads the 40 Days for Life campaign in Peru.

The group, she said, operates in seven large Peruvian cities and draws about 200 volunteers — all of them Catholic. Vargas was one of the pro-life leaders invited by Congresswoman Aguayo to work on the bill two years ago.

“The law raises awareness about the real rights an unborn child has. It is important not only for pro-life activists, but also for physicians who face complex demands in their daily work,” she told OSV News.

Vargas declared that pro-life movements must keep working to combat the ideology of abortion and to provide real support to women who have unexpected pregnancies or suffered rape.

She celebrates the fact that the pro-life movements are well-organized and prepared to deal with the complex reality in Peru. After four years that included the COVID-19 pandemic and an enduring political crisis, Peruvians again organized their March for Life in 2023.

“The economic crisis disturbed our movement, given that the people need to generate income and end up distancing themselves from other activities. But we are working together and only need a bit more support from the church for our lay movements,” Vargas concluded.

Eduardo Campos Lima

Eduardo Campos Lima writes for OSV News from São Paulo.