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Court upholds 14-month prison sentence for doctor who refused to abort baby at 23 weeks

Court upholds 14-month prison sentence for doctor who refused to abort baby at 23 weeks

Executive Director of Alternatives Pregnancy Center Janet Lyons points to a plastic replica of a fetus at twelve weeks which is used to show women who come into the center to find out if they are pregnant and what the stage of growth looks like, in Waterloo, Iowa, July 6, 2011. | (Photo: REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

An appeals court in Argentina has upheld the conviction of a gynecologist who refused to perform a late-term abortion on a teenager who was five months pregnant.

The court upheld Dr. Leandro Rodriguez Lastra's 14-month suspended prison term and 28 months of disqualification from holding public office earlier this month, according to a report by BioEdge.

Judges Miguel Angel Cardella and María Rita Custet Llambí concluded that "the gender perspective should be applied" to the case and therefore found Rodríguez Lastra guilty of "failure to comply with the duties of a public official.”

"A woman who is pregnant as a result of rape has the right to access the medical practice of legal abortion in public health facilities and the defendant obstructed that process," ruled the judges, as quoted by BioEdge.

"The accused did not respect the personal autonomy of the woman in the exercise of his medical profession as an employee of the province's public hospital.”

Judge Custet Llambí also wrote, "Faced with the intersection of so many vulnerabilities, the accused overpowered the young woman’s self-determination, giving priority to the reproductive function that she symbolized as a woman, over her dignity, over her right to health and to be informed, accompanied, sustained and respected in the process of interrupting the pregnancy, an interruption to which she had a right over any other right or interest," according to Life Site News.

Rodriguez Lastra plans to appeal the decision.

Argentina currently bans abortion in most circumstances. However, the procedure is allowed in cases of rape and a life-threatening medical emergency for the mother.

In 2017, a 19-year-old woman who was raped by a relative and suffering pain after taking the first of two abortion pills while over 20 weeks pregnant was brought to Rodríguez Lastra, at the time the head of the gynecology department at Pedro Moguillansky Hospital in Cipoletti.

The doctor refused to perform an abortion on the teenager when requested, concluding that the procedure would have been dangerous to both mother and unborn child.

The woman gave birth and gave the baby up for adoption.

In May of last year, Rodríguez Lastra was found guilty of failing to carry out his duty as a public official, with Judge Álvaro Meynet ruling that he did a “delaying maneuver” to take advantage of a vulnerable woman, as reported by Catholic News Agency at the time.  

The appeals court ruling comes as Argentina seriously considers legislation that would make it the first major Latin American country to broadly legalize abortion.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández recently called on the country’s legislature to pass a bill that would legalize the procedure. A previous effort in 2018 failed.

“The state must protect its citizens in general and women in particular,” stated Fernández in an address to the legislature, as reported by The Guardian.

“Society in the 21st century needs to respect the individual choice of its members to freely decide about their bodies.”

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