The Chilean state has apologized to a woman who was forcibly sterilized by doctors because she was HIV-positive.
The woman, known only as Francisca and then aged 20, was diagnosed with HIV in March 2002 while pregnant with her first child. But while she was under anesthetic during a C-section, doctors at a public hospital performed surgical sterilization on the grounds that it would be irresponsible for an HIV-positive woman to have more children. When Francisca woke up after the operation, she was told by a nurse that she had been sterilized without her consent.
“This act of reparation reaffirms the commitment of the Chilean state to try to repair the damage caused by the actions of its employees,” said Antonia Urrejola, Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, who presented the official apology alongside the president. Gabriel Boric Thursday afternoon.
“It also underscores this administration’s commitment to ensuring that the reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive autonomy of women are not affected as they were in [Francisca’s] Case.”
In 2020, the UNAids program estimated that there were 77,000 people living with HIV in Chile.
According to the organization, women living with HIV are more likely to experience violence during reproductive health procedures.
Social and economic inequalities also exacerbate risks for women. Francisca lived in a poor rural community and had never had access to sexual or reproductive education.
She had received no guidance as to the risks, benefits, and alternatives to sterilization, despite the legal requirement for informed written consent from the patient.
In 2007, Francisca filed a criminal complaint against the doctor, who claimed to have obtained verbal consent, and her case was closed a year later when a court ruled it was not a crime.
Two years later, the case was brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo, two organizations acting on behalf of Francisca.
On August 3, 2021, the Chilean state signed a settlement accepting its responsibility.
The agreement made Chile responsible for compensating Francisca for the damage caused, providing a housing allowance and health care for her and her son, and committing to raising awareness about HIV and reproductive rights.
“I receive the apologies that have been presented to me by the Chilean State… [but] it must be clear that I was not the only one,” Francisca said at the time.
“I’m happy to know that my case can be used to end stereotypes about people living with HIV and improve health care for other women.
Reproductive rights have only recently been liberalized in Chile.
Until 2017, abortion was criminalized in all circumstances, even when necessary to save the woman’s life. It is now legal in three cases – when the mother’s life is in danger, in the event of a non-viable pregnancy or if the pregnancy results from rape.
Chile’s new progressive government, led by President Boric, 36, is committed to strengthening sexual and reproductive rights.
The country recently finalized a draft of a new constitution that could replace the 1980 document that was enacted – although later reformed – under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
The project will be submitted to a national plebiscite on September 4. It consecrates the autonomy of the individual over his body, the right to sex education and opens the way to access to abortion.