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11-year-old whose pregnancy ignited a debate in Bolivia granted an abortion

A demonstrator holds a sign reading: “Girls, not mothers: Today we go out so that childhood, adolescence is not ruined,” in La Paz, Bolivia, on Oct. 29. (Manuel Claure/Reuters)
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An 11-year-old girl, whose pregnancy reignited debate about the legality of abortion in Bolivia, moved forward with the procedure Saturday after receiving official approval, government officials told reporters.

Eduardo del Castillo, Bolivia’s government minister, said in a news conference on Sunday that “the girl discontinued her pregnancy,” “in accordance with current laws and what has been decided by the judicial authorities in our country,” according to the EFE, a Spanish news agency. She has been released from the hospital and is being monitored by the children’s ombudsman in Yapacaní, in the Santa Cruz province.

Nadia Cruz, Bolivia’s human rights ombudswoman, told local media that the girl was healthy physically but that she would need mental health monitoring. She added that a medical board was formed Wednesday in Santa Cruz to ensure the girl’s safety and well-being. The girl and her mother were told about the findings of the board, she said, and both, with the assistance of psychologists and the children’s ombudsman, had made a decision.

Rape and pregnancy of 11-year-old reignites abortion debate in Bolivia

The girl had been under the care of her 61-year-old step-grandfather, who is awaiting trial over allegations that he raped her, in Yapacaní, because her parents had left town for work. She noticed “strange movements” in her belly a few weeks ago, and her family soon realized she was pregnant. Her step-grandfather is in jail.

Initially, the girl and her mother went to the hospital to seek an abortion, which is legal in the case of rape according to Bolivian law. That process was interrupted after a lawyer for a local Catholic organization intervened, according to Ana Paola García Villagomez, executive director of la Casa de la Mujer, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for women’s rights and has been involved in the case.

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 around the world, and risks can be even more severe for younger girls, the World Health Organization warns.

The case galvanized the church, which opposed the girl’s family seeking an abortion, and rights groups, which said the church had overstepped its bounds.

The Catholic church in Bolivia lamented the outcome of the case. Bells tolled in churches across Santa Cruz Sunday “in defense of human life from conception to natural death” and “so that the voices of the ‘unborn children’ resound in people’s consciences,” according to a statement on the church’s website.

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