Nuns with megaphones

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Searching for the Machu Picchu ticket office in Cusco we stumbled upon an anti-abortion protest. The nuns seemed to be getting right into it, hollering into megaphones. We wondered why they weren’t cloistered up somewhere.

We have to give them credit for some good slogans (translated):

  • Lets speak for those who cannot speak
  • A baby in arms is less heavy than a baby on your conscience

We were also pretty impressed with the turnout. It’s hard to estimate but there must have been five thousand plus people, and Cusco is not a massive city.

We were surprised to see, however, a number of nurses attending in uniform, and a representation from the Peruvian military.

Most of all we were concerned at the number of school children participating. We reckon the median protestor age was about thirteen. There were large groups of kids in school uniform tracksuits. If the march was a compulsory school activity then that’s much more despicable than cross country. And even if it’s voluntary, I’m not sure of the wisdom of encouraging pre-teens to be judgmental on such a sensitive issue and giving them pictures of fetuses to carry through the streets.

Abortion in Peru

Abortion is illegal in Peru except where giving birth would endanger a mother’s life.  Women who have abortions can be jailed for up to two years, and a medical practitioner who gives one can be jailed for up to six.

The protest suggests that back street abortions must be fairly commonplace. They’re not just some debating abstraction. The UN has expressed concerns about high rates of maternal mortality resulting from botched and unsafe abortions. There are other concerns about the restrictive nature of Peru’s legislation too:

  • A seventeen year old girl was denied an abortion on health grounds though her labour lead her to be quadriplegic. Her pregnancy was the result of rape.
  • A thirteen year old girl whose fetus was diagnosed with a condition that would be fatal at birth was denied a therapeutic abortion.

The narrative of the abortion debate we’re familiar with is most commonly about the US: Roe vs Wade and the extent of a woman’s right to choose. But there are some very real, confronting and immediate issues here too, and they probably deserve more of our attention.

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