At age 17, K.L. became pregnant with an anencephalic fetus, which is a severe anomaly causing the fetus to lack parts of the brain and to have no chance of survival after birth. K.L. sought access to legal abortion services under Peruvian law, which permits abortion when the life or health of the woman is in danger. The hospital refused to provide abortion care even though a doctor confirmed that the pregnancy posed a risk to K.L.’s life and health, and a social worker and psychologist confirmed the grave danger to K.L.’s mental health and well-being. Five months later, K.L. gave birth, and her baby only survived for four days, during which K.L. had to breastfeed her. Following the baby’s death, K.L. fell into a state of deep depression. K.L.’s complaint alleged that the State violated article 2 (guarantee to exercise rights), article 3 (nondiscrimination), article 6 (right to life), article 7 (right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment), article 17 (the right to privacy), article 24 (special protection of the rights of a minor), and article 26 (guarantee of equal protection of the law).
The Committee recognized that compelling KL to carry to term an anencephalic pregnancy, which was posing risks to her life, as well as her physical and mental health, amounted to a violation of her right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 7). In this regard, the Committee noted that the pain and suffering KL endured was foreseeable, as the anencephaly had been diagnosed by the hospital and it had been provided with information detailing the impact that the pregnancy was having on KL. The Committee emphasized that the protections against CIDT include mental suffering and that this is especially important with regards to minors.
The Committee also found a violation of KL’s right to privacy (Article 17), recognizing that the hospital refused to act in accordance with the KL’s decision to exercise her legal right to terminate her pregnancy, which constituted an undue interference with her private life.
Further, the Committee recognized KL’s particular vulnerability as a minor girl and the fact that she did not receive adequate medical care or psychological support either during or after her pregnancy, as required by the circumstances. It therefore found a violation of Article 24 (right to special measures of protection).
The Committee also found a violation of Article 2 (right to an effective remedy) on the grounds that KL did not have acess to an effective remedy. The decision ordered the Peruvian government to provide K.L. with reparations, and to take steps to ensure such violations do not happen in the future.
This is the first time an international human rights body held a government accountable for failing to ensure access to a legal abortion service. The decision established that it was not enough to grant a right on paper, but where abortion is legal it is the duty of governments to ensure that women actually have access to it.