Peruvian Court Bans Distribution of EC in Public Sector


In mid-October, the Peruvian Constitutional Court—the highest
court in Peru–issued a ruling banning the free distribution in the public
health system of the Emergency Contraception pill (EC) arguing that it is an
abortifacient.  The tribunal did
not ban the sale of EC pills in private pharmacies because it only has legal jurisdiction
over the actions of public institutions.

The most recent court decision is hard to understand because
in 2006 this same court approved the distribution of EC by public hospitals and
health centers, based on the scientific evidence of its effect as a
contraceptive method.

According to experts from the Colegio de Médicos del Peru (Association
of Physicians of Peru) and the World Health Organization, EC prevents ovulation
and does not have any detectable effect on the endometrium (uterine lining) or
progesterone levels when given after ovulation.  Therefore, EC pills are
not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and will not cause
abortion.

In response to the Constitutional Court’s ruling the Colegio
de Médicos will appeal the measure at the international level, with the support
of other organizations such as the Colegio de Abogados (association of lawyers
of Peru), the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights National
Coalition), and feminists groups and academics organizations.

The Colegio de Médicos del Peru will argue that the Peruvian
Constitutional Court’s ruling ignores the recommendations of the Committee for
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which in 2007 called
on the Peruvian Government to enhance family planning services to women and
girls, including emergency contraception.

Even for the
Peruvian government the measure was incomprehensible, so it asked the
Constitutional Tribunal for a clarification. On November 11 the court made clear
that it was forbidden for the Ministry of Health –or another governmental body-
to distribute the EC pill, or to sell or give away the stock of emergency contraception
pills.

Soon after Oscar Ugarte, minister of Health, announced that
the 7,000 pills in stock will be donated to Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsible
(INNPARES) an NGO devoted to sexual and reproductive health.” Immediately the
Constitutional Court accused the Ministry of rebellion against its ruling.

INNPARES stated that it can distribute the pill to poor
people, but not for free, since transportation costs would be involved.

Before the sentence, the EC pill cost about U.S. $9 per use,
which already was an unaffordable amount for many women living under the
poverty line. After the sentence the price was increased up to U.S. $20 per
use.

That is why, for various human rights organizations and
feminist groups the ruling is discriminatory because only a few can afford the
high cost, which excludes the poorest women.  They also argue that the lack of free EC pill distribution
will increase the number of abortions, now estimated to 370,000 a year, particularly
since poor women made pregnant as a result of rape or facing unwanted
pregnancies will have no other option.

The president of Peru, Alan Garcia announced that the
government will not appeal to international bodies, such as the Independent
Commission for Human Rights
(ICHR), but said that citizens can do it, and they
can have the support of the Defensoría del Pueblo (official body in charge of
defending human rights) in developing the procedure.

To understand why lawyers are deciding on science matters
and changing their opinion we have to take into account three factors.

The first is the timing of the Constitutional Court’s announcement.
The measure was issued just one week after the Special Reviewer Commission of
the Peruvian Penal Code announced its support of a new law authorizing therapeutic
abortion for specific reasons, and proposing decriminalization of abortion in
cases of rape or congenital disorders in the fetus. Therefore for many analysts
the ruling was intended to counteract the possible liberalization of abortion.

The second is the origin of the ruling. It was issued as a
result of a demand submitted by the nongovernmental group Acción de Lucha Anticorrupción Sin
Componenda
(Action of contra-corruption fight), which has as honorific
members: Yahweh, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This group is a non-governmental
organization devoted to “protect values and moral.”

The third is the connection to business interests. The
Ministry of Health distributed a generic version of the EC pill, while the
pharmacies sell the brand name versions such as Postinor and others.  There is no concrete evidence of links
between pharmaceutical labs and current members of the Peruvian Constitutional
Tribunal, but certainly this ruling is to the benefit of the labs, because now
women have to buy EC pills from pharmaceutical labs.

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