While doctors can legally perform abortions in public hospitals, the law has not permeated the entire country. In many places, violence against women and denial of their rights is institutionalized. Doctors and staff remain intimidated.
TARTAGAL, Argentina — On December 29, 2020, Argentina’s Congress passed a bill (Law 27,610) for access to the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy (VIP) – guaranteeing abortions for up to 14 weeks. As an abortion provider, one day, a 21-year-old pregnant girl came to me seeking an abortion. We carried out the procedure and days later, the girl’s family filed criminal charges against me.
The justice system accused me of “forcing” an abortion without consent and detained me. With the help of my lawyer and various communities of women, I walked out of the police station, but still face alleged charges.
The legalization of abortion rights brings me joy and peace of mind, and I will keep up my work with women at the clinic. I will continue to let them know, exercising your abortion rights is not a crime!
At nine years old, I dreamed about becoming a doctor and dedicating my life to helping people. I graduated with honors and in 2020, went to work at Santa Victoria Hospital. My routine consists of attending to a variety of health consultations each day, except on Mondays.
On Mondays, I go to Juan Domingo Perón Hospital and see women with unwanted pregnancies seeking abortions. In two years, I have seen more than 300 women and the number continues to rise. I am the only doctor in the area who has not conscientiously objected to performing abortions.
There is a standard procedure for treating patients in every abortion case. I work with an interdisciplinary team of medical experts. Upon the patient’s arrival, six specialists study and discuss the best treatment method for the patient. After we make the final decision, we sign the clinical record for the case.
We promise to take care of women in Tartagal, a city in northern Argentina’s Salta province with almost 190 thousand inhabitants. Despite the population size, there are very few providers for abortions.
The day the 21-year-old pregnant girl came to the clinic, we consulted with the specialist group and decided to carry out the voluntary termination of pregnancy procedure. I prescribed Misoprostol, a pharmacological abortion drug. I asked her to put the pills under her tongue for half an hour before she swallowed them. She had to repeat this every three hours.
Days later, this girl’s family filed a criminal complaint against me, including charges of forcing abortion without consent and performing a surgical operation to extract a lively fetus. I denied the spurious allegations.
The police officers detained me shortly after. They interrogated me, asking, “What was my motive,” and “How did I commit the crime?” It felt ridiculous. No one explained how I “forced” my patient to have an abortion in the first place.
After her initial consultation, the young woman returned the next day of her own free will to take the pills. I kept medical records on everything. Sadly, this was not the only misinformation the prosecutors collected. I did not understand why the flawed accusations stood, when the abortion right should have protected me. Then I discovered a bigger story behind my charges. People were exacting political revenge. Volumes of misinformation went viral in the media.
I asked myself, “How did it go from a wrongful abortion case to the deprivation of my liberty?” First, the girl’s aunt stepped forward as a complainant. She and the girl’s uncle, who served as a police officer, had urged the young woman not to have an abortion. Since they lived close to her, they made threats. They said if she had an abortion, they would prevent her from returning to her home.
The case drew attention from churches and anti-abortion groups, and misinformation gathered by the provincial deputy Christina Fiore and the councilor Claudia Subelza spread like wildfire. They claimed we admitted the woman to the operating room against her will and asphyxiated the fetus before placing it in the trash in a plastic bag. It would never happen that way.
Motivated to lie by their religious beliefs, the attempt backfired. Their wrongdoing led to public outrage. The Observatory of Violence against Women stepped forward and demanded sanctioning them both for their misconduct since prosecutions should not be subject to value judgments based on personal beliefs.
The final player in the story was Marcelo Cornejo, the gynecologist on duty. Cornejo forced the technician on staff to modify clinical history documents to say the fetus was alive when aborted. He was the same doctor whom I had filed a complaint against when an underage patient accused him of sexual abuse.
He has since been charged with “forgery of a public instrument and breach of the duties of a public official in a real contest.” The plaintiff’s attorney in my case happens to be the same person defending Cornejo.
Despite my enemies attempts, I received incredible love and support from co-workers, patients in Tartagal, and the entire country. Demonstrations took place throughout Argentina. Activist groups gathered everywhere, including at the Palace of Courts in the capitol. They marched in the streets.
Support came from feminist groups, Amnesty, the National Human Rights Secretariat and the women’s movement. The tremendous defense of my lawyer Óscar Guillén undermined the prosecutor’s efforts, but still the courts did not dismiss the accusations against me.
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