Peruvian congresswoman challenges coronavirus abortion regulations

victor zamora Peruvian health minister Victor Zamora. | ANDINA

Peruvian congresswoman Luz Milagros Cayguaray Gambini has demanded the country's health minister provide the legal and scientific basis for a directive that would allow abortion when a pregnant woman is infected with the novel coronavirus.

Abortion is illegal in Peru except when pregnancy would cause death or permanent harm to a pregnant woman.

On April 22, Peru's Minister of Health Victor Zamora issued a directive calling for provision of emergency contraception in the country, and allowing abortion for pregnant women who test positive for the coronavirus.

In a May 5 letter, Cayguaray demanded Zamora to "Indicate what the legal basis" is for the directive that allows doctors to "end the pregnancy," if the mother has contracted COVID-19.

The legislator also challenged Zamora to indicate "the scientific and medical basis the norm is based upon."

At issue is whether a positive test for coronavirus is sufficient to establish that a pregnancy threatens the life of a woman. Gambini says that assertion is unproven and unfounded.

Cayguaray has also written to Dr. Enrique Guevara Ríos, director of the country's Perinatal Maternal Institute, asking him to report how many pregnant women with COVID-19 have been treated to date, "how many have had their pregnancies terminated," "on what grounds," and "what current regulation has been applied to carry out the interruption of those pregnancies."

The Arequipa Doctors for Life Association has criticized the health directive in a statement.

"At this time in which all our efforts as a nation should be aimed at improving our precarious health system to mitigate the serious impact of the pandemic, the circumstances are being used to dictate measures that threaten the lives of Peruvians in their most vulnerable stage, life in the womb," the group said.

Regarding the "morning after pill," the group expressed surprise and concern "that the Ministry of Health promotes the irresponsible and reckless use of this drug in the general population and particularly for minors, and even worse, dispenses with obtaining the person's medical history, which is an essential tool for the responsible practice of medicine, thus seriously exposing the users to danger."

Aborting a child because the mother has COVID-19, the doctors said "is contrary to the principles that govern medical practice, which must always be based on the application of therapies that are based on rigorous scientific studies and with respect to elementary ethical principles" which guide medical science in providing the best strategies to protect patients.

When a woman is pregnant "we have two patients to take care of, the mother and the unborn child," the doctors association stressed.

Concerning the babies themselves, five newborns whose mothers have COVID-19 were recently discharged from a government hospital in Peru. A sixth, also born of a coronavirus patient who is in serious condition in the intensive care unit, was born prematurely and remains hospitalized. None of the babies have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a May 5 interview with the El Comercio daily, Dr. César García Aste, who heads the hospital's neonatology department, explained that there are strict protocols as to how the baby is to be fed in order to avoid infecting it.

A doctor from the hospital is assigned to follow up daily by phone on the baby's condition for an average of 14 days, and "so far we haven't had a problem with any of the five babies," Garcia said.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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