February 28, 2019 3:48 pm
Updated: February 28, 2019 3:49 pm

Abortion debate rages in Argentina after 11-year-old forced to give birth

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An 11-year-old Argentinian girl who was raped while in her grandmother’s care had a C-section earlier this week after doctors refused to give her an abortion, sparking a debate about choice in the South American country.

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The girl became pregnant after her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner sexually abused her, according to local media reports. She had been in her grandmother’s care because her two older sisters had been abused by their mother’s partner, the Guardian reports.

The health minister of the northern province of Tucuman told reporters the girl wanted to keep the child, but local reports say she told the hospital psychologist “I want you to remove what the old man put inside me.”

Local reports say the girl suffered self-inflicted wounds from apparent suicide attempts.

The case has put a spotlight on the legality of abortion in the country — it’s legal only in cases of rape and when the mother’s health is at risk.

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In the case of the 11-year-old girl, whose identity is not public, both exceptions were present, but local doctors refused because of their personal beliefs. That, along with a debate about the guardianship of the girl, led to weeks of delays.

Eventually, the government ordered the C-section, which took place on Tuesday. Health authorities said the C-section was an attempt to “save both lives.”

But activists — along with the doctor who performed the surgery — decried the delays as “torture.”

 “We saved the life of an 11-year-old girl who was tortured for a month by the provincial health system,” Dr. Cecilia Ousset told the Guardian.

“For electoral reasons they [the authorities] prevented the legal interruption of the pregnancy and forced the little girl to give birth.”

The girl is in good health, but the baby, who was born four months premature, is not expected to survive.

WATCH: Tackling both sides of the abortion debate

The case — along with the case of a 12-year-old who became pregnant after a rape and gave birth via C-section in January — renewed the debate over the right to an abortion in Argentina which came to a head after vote to legalize it failed in August, 2018.

At the time, Argentina’s health minister estimated there were more than 350,000 illegal abortions performed every year, but human rights groups say the number is likely higher, the New York Times reports.

Researchers told the Times that 18 per cent of maternal deaths come from complications from clandestine abortions.

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In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, thousands of women marched on the National Congress building in support of legalizing abortion earlier this month.

Activists waved green handkerchiefs and flags.

“There is a social decriminalization of abortion. We had positive results in the Congress [last year],” one protester told AFP on Feb. 2.

“Unfortunately, the Senate is not responding as representatives of the people, but is responding to the conservative hierarchies of each province.”

AFP reports a new bill to decriminalize the procedure will be submitted in March.

WATCH: Thousands march in Buenos Aires against President Macri’s austerity policies

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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