Doctors, politicians, and priests conspired to stop abortion of 11-year-old who had been raped and impregnated by grandmother's boyfriend
Abortion while mostly illegal in Argentina, is still accepted in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger
Lucía (not her real name) has become a household name in Argentina thanks to the national attention she attracted after it emerged that she was seeking an abortion. But why would such a seemingly routine procedure garner so much coverage? Well, for one, abortion is illegal in Argentina, and second, Lucía is just 11 years old.
Born into a poor family, Lucía was ordered to live with her grandmother in 2014, which is where she was raped and impregnated by the latter's 65-year-old boyfriend. By the end of January, she began feeling unwell, and when her mother took her to the Eva Perón public hospital in the province’s capital in San Miguel de Tucumán for a checkup, doctors revealed the preteen was already 20-week pregnant.
Her mother's immediate concern was the wellbeing of Lucía and she felt the only way to move forward was to get an abortion, which while illegal in most cases, is still accepted in cases of rape or when the mother's life in danger.
Lucía's case checked both boxes, but as the 11-year-old and her mother would soon find out, forces around them would conspire in every possible way to ensure that she did not go through with the abortion.
Lucía's mother, whose identity has been kept a secret to protect her, told Buzzfeed News that doctors at the Eva Perón kept throwing up roadblocks, demanding unnecessary paperwork such as her former husband's signature, which wasn't required by law. Even when she managed to get the signature, no one at the hospital took the paper from her, she claimed.
Doctors reportedly also warned her that an abortion could kill her daughter, performing an ultrasound and excitedly telling her she would be the mother to a baby girl. Meanwhile, nurses gave her a corticoid injection which would make the fetus' lungs mature faster by lying to her and telling her it was a vitamin shot.
Because of how rare such cases are in public hospitals and the influence of the church in the region, priests with ties to the government learned about Lucía's predicament and began interfering themselves to ensure the 11-year-old did not proceed with the abortion.
As the doctors stalled, Gustavo Vigliocco, head of the health care system in the province of Tucumán, made his way into the picture. He offered a deal to Lucía's family wherein they would receive a house and a scholarship for the 11-year-old if she decided to go ahead with the birth.
Lucía's mother said Vigliocco was persistent and visited them every day at the hospital, almost always stroking her belly and asking the preteen to "hang in there." But when she kept refusing his offers, he tried to change the rules around the abortion and asked her to find two blood donors; something that was near impossible in such a short time frame. The hospital's in-house chaplain tried his best too. Lucía's mother said he visited them five times and on each occasion, told her daughter to protect the "little creature."
But throughout the ordeal, Lucía had just one thing in her mind: to get the procedure done. When the hospital and state authorities realized the family would not bow to public pressure, they had one last trick up their sleeve. They told the 11-year-old's mother that the girl could have her abortion, but not at the Eva Perón. They told her she would have to take her daughter to a private clinic, even ordering a taxi to take them away.
Luckily, the family had the support of human rights lawyers provided to them by one of the country's most prominent feminist movements who told them not to go anywhere. Eventually, they got the go-ahead, but the abortion would not be at the Eva Perón and it had already been close to a month since Lucía found out she was pregnant and wanted an abortion.
On the afternoon of February 26, Lucía was transported to the private clinic operated by Dr. José Gijena, who later revealed he had been threatened himself. The 11-year-old was taken into the clinic with a full escort by security guards, and due to her physical and psychological condition, it was decided that a "micro C-section" would be the right way forward.
The procedure took all of 40 minutes and Lucía survived, though she never got to meet the baby. The baby, who weighed just 1.3 lbs, died 10 days later.