Crucifixes, pictures of the Virgin of Mercy, Pope Francisco and posters with the message "Save the two lives" -the mother and the fetus- decorate hospitals, schools, taxis, pharmacies and other businesses in San Miguel de Tucumán , in the north of Argentina. In a hospital on the outskirts of this provincial capital, on January 29, an eleven-year-old girl, 21 weeks pregnant, was admitted. She is known as Lucia to protect her identity. She said that her grandmother had raped her and expressed a clear desire: "I want you to take out what the old man put in me." The law protected her, but the Tucumán government took four weeks to order the interruption of her pregnancy and only acted when she received a judicial service. It was too late: the doctors said there was a risk to his life and they performed a cesarean section. The baby, conceived by her rapist, 65, weighed 660 grams at birth. They called her Faustina. He died after 10 days.
The surgical intervention was carried out on the night of February 26, while half a hundred people protested at the doors of the Hospital del Este Eva Perón. The archbishop of Tucumán, Carlos Sanchez, had urged the faithful hours before to guard the life of the girl (whose real name she revealed, in violation of the law) and "of the unborn baby." When she died, the doctors who operated on her were reported for homicide.
"Faustina fought for her life for 10 days, a 21-centimeter little girl weighing 660 grams died naked and alone in an incubator and we want her death not to be in vain, which is why we have met a group of doctors and lawyers to see what can we do, "says Mara Mockevich, one of the prosecuting attorneys. "We are not talking about abortion, but about homicide, because abortion is criminally the death of the fetus and this girl was born alive, due to the extreme prematurity to which she was forced to be born," she says.
Only 21% of the students of private schools in Tucumán and 32% of the public have received information in class about how to avoid sexual abuse, according to the results of the official evaluation Learning. Methods of prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the least taught knowledge in schools, according to the responses of students.
In the "March for Life" held last Saturday in San Miguel de Tucumán, the column of lawyers raised posters of "Justice for Faustina". The gathering brought together thousands of people dressed in blue kerchiefs, the color that identifies the detractors of abortion in Argentina. Religious images and legends in favor of the two lives were mixed with proclamations against the law of comprehensive sexual education and misoprostol, the medicine used for medical abortions.
The marriage of obstetricians and gynecologist José Gijena and Cecilia Ousset, who practiced cesarean section, trust that the accusation will not prosper. In an open letter, they argued that they had acted "at the request of the authorities" in compliance with "the legal norms in force."
Since 1921, in Argentina, abortion is a crime punishable by jail except in cases of rape and risk to the health of the mother. In 2012, the ruling F.A.L. of the Supreme Court ratified the decriminalization for all victims of sexual abuse. But the right of these women to a legal interruption of pregnancy is not guaranteed in the north of the country. With time against, many are overcome by obstacles and end up giving up. Tucumán, one of the most conservative provinces, does not have its own non-punishable abortion protocol nor does it follow the national one. It is the only one that has not adhered to the national law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation of 2002, which includes the free distribution of contraceptives in hospitals.
In Tucumán, only two public hospitals perform non-punishable abortions and almost all the doctors working in them are conscientious objectors. In the case of Lucía, the Homicide Prosecutor's office issued an official letter warning that interrupting the pregnancy could lead to the commission of a crime. For fear of legal consequences, the only two non-obese doctors at the hospital refused to perform the intervention. The authorities then called Gijena. He agreed to "end the torture" to which the girl was being subjected, in his own words. When the couple of doctors arrived at the hospital, they found Lucia clinging to her mother's hand and playing with dolls.
Threats to doctors
Shortly before entering the operating room, the gynecologist had received a telephone threat in his office, according to the reconstruction of that night that Sebastián Ángel Zazzali made in the magazine Tucumán Zeta. "He will pay dearly for what he is about to do," predicted an anonymous voice. It has been fulfilled. The two professionals have been the target of threats and insults and have had to change schools to their children after the institution refused to enroll one of them. They consider that the denunciation by homicide, unpublished in Argentina for a legal interruption of pregnancy, tries to frighten the medical community "so that nobody else dares to do it".
In the streets they are painted in favor of the right of women to decide and legal abortion is also claimed in posters posted at the National University of Tucumán, but in politics the rejection is unanimous. Last August, 39 of the 43 legislators voted in favor of declaring Tucumán "pro-life province". A week ago, the lobby of the provincial legislature was occupied by anti-abortion organizations that showed life-size videos of intrauterine life and fetuses. Neither are changes coming after the elections of this 2019: the candidates for governor of Peronism and Cambiemos are opposed to changing the law.
The case of Lucia, reflected in media around the world, has shown resistance to abortion not punishable in Tucumán. It was necessary to present a amicus curiae (third party in a litigation that offers his opinion to collaborate in the resolution) before the justice and a formal petition before the Administration so that the provincial authorities would fulfill the will of the girl and her mother, explains Flor Vallino, lawyer of Andhes, one of the organizations that supported them.
The majority of women in Tucumán do not know their sexual and reproductive rights, warns Soledad Deza, from Catholics for the right to decide and Women x Women. Pregnant women who can not claim a legal reason must seek help outside the health system, through clandestine abortions in which life is played. If they suffer complications go with fear of emergencies. "Doctors can blame you and put you in jail (in jail) like that girl Bethlehem," replies a young woman as she leaves the hospital. It refers to a 27-year-old woman who in 2014 was sentenced to eight years in prison for an abortion. He served two, until a superior court acquitted her amid massive demonstrations of support.
The Argentine Senate rejected last August the project to legalize the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, but the adverse result has not deterred the country's growing feminist movement. Its referents are pushing for it to be law soon and the struggle is visible in the streets of Buenos Aires with green handkerchiefs tied to backpacks, wallets and dolls. But in this city, located about 1,100 kilometers to the northwest, the crack has widened. The links between political, ecclesiastical and judicial power seem narrower today than they were seven months ago. In November, 29 of the 43 legislators presented a bill to prohibit the interruption of pregnancy even in cases of rape, in clear contradiction with the legislation in force. "The failure F.A.L. is not binding for the provinces," says Santiago del Carril convinced. This lawyer, sponsor of the complaint for homicide, looks in his suit a pin albiceleste in the form of a fetus and is in favor of each non-punishable abortion has to be authorized by a judge, not as now, it is enough with an affidavit .
"Pro-life groups have information from inside the hospitals before anyone else," said many of the interviewees. On the vigil in front of the hospital, the protesters did everything possible to stop the authorized operation. They did not succeed, but they will try again. "In the north there is not a single Lucia, there are many," laments Deza.
Unlike Lucia, most cases are invisible. Karina closes her black eyes and breaks into tears as she remembers the hell she went through a year ago. This 29-year-old from Tucuman arrived at the hospital in the East, disfigured by the blows her partner had hit her in the face and stomach, but the doctor, when she heard that she wanted to have an abortion, felt it and told her to go home because she was not pregnant. Desperate, she tried to hang herself. Her parents saved her and days later encouraged her to visit the Argentine sanitary train, dependent on the national government, which runs through the provinces to provide medical assistance. One of the professionals referred her to a psychologist and a lawyer who guided her so that her right was guaranteed.
In 2016, Nelly was 34 years old and was already the mother of a child when she learned that the second child she was expecting was suffering from anencephaly, a severe brain malformation. In the maternity they referred her to a psychologist who told her about her right to interrupt her pregnancy, but her obstetrician opposed it. "She told me that if God sent me this way, I had to receive it like that, but I did not want to because I knew I was not going to live," she recalls at the headquarters of Mujeres x Mujeres, the NGO that intervened to help her. "She also told me that my uterus would explode if she aborted, but that did not happen and a year later I had another child," she says relieved.