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Dr. Leandro Rodriguez Lastra speaking outside the Argentine congress, October 2018. Portal Uno via YouTube.
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Argentine doctor on trial for refusing to commit abortion on viable baby

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Analysis

May 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Dr. Leandro Rodriguez Lastra, an OB-GYN who practices in the town of Cipolletti, Rio Negro province, Argentina, is currently being tried for “obstetrical violence” and breach of his duties as a public functionary for having refused to perform a legal abortion on a 19-year-old victim of rape in April 2017. Rodriguez was sued by the provincial Kirchnerist deputy Marta Milesi days after his refusal: she personally promoted the abortion law in the province.

Abortion is legal in Rio Negro — as well as in ten other Argentinian provinces — in so-called borderline cases, such as when a pregnancy is the result of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the mother is mentally handicapped and has been subject to sexual abuse.

Rodriguez has been head of the gynecology service of Pedro Moguillansky Hospital since 2016. All doctors but one are conscientious objectors, as are the vast majority of gynecologists in Rio Negro.

His trial is front-page news in Argentina. It follows two years of proceedings during which Rodriguez argued in vain that he did not perform the abortion for medical reasons and that it is not up to a judge to interfere with that. He has been clear about his pro-life stance and received support from pro-life groups all over the country.

The president of the tribunal, Julio Suelto, decided in October last year that the trial would go ahead, rejecting Rodriguez’s request that the affair be dismissed for technical reasons. Two public prosecutors said at the time that they considered the doctor guilty of violation of the provincial abortion law on the grounds that this law is binding for all public doctors in Rio Negro. This is a clear frontal attack on the right to conscientious objection.

According to AciPrensa, the doctor told a local media, LMNeuquén, that “this type of situation is attacking society as a whole, devaluing life and attacking us doctors as well.”

“The justice system that gave rise to this is allowing doctor’s (decisions) to be questioned, it calls into question our attitude and our ability to work and ensure safety,” he said. “I know I didn’t commit any crime,” the doctor added. “I would act the same again because no child’s death is going to weigh on my conscience,” he insisted.

As a member of the group “Save Both,” Rodriguez has the satisfaction of knowing that both the young woman who came to Pedro Moguillansky Hospital to get rid of her baby and the child himself are alive today: the baby was given up for adoption and is now a thriving two-year-old.

For the duration of the trial, which is expected to last three days from Monday, May 13 to Wednesday, May 15 in Cipolletti, pro-life groups, including CitizenGo, are demonstrating in front of the Rio Negro tribunal.

One of Rodriguez’s first complaints about the judiciary procedure is that the young woman in the case did not file a complaint against him. Marta Milesi, the paediatrician who gave her name to the local abortion law, is the only person who did, and she is being heard as a witness — “even though she wasn’t,” Rodriguez told Infobae. She is being heard in her capacity of “precursor of the law” he is accused of having violated: “The prosecutor considers it important that she explain what she wanted to achieve with that law,” he explained.

Rodriguez’s defense relies on the facts in the case.

As far as he knew, the young woman in the case had been brought by ambulance from General Fernandez Oro Hospital in the town of the same name, near Cipolleti, which did not have the complex equipment required to deal with her situation: she was in severe pain and said she had ingested an abortion drug, Misoprostol, which she said she had obtained from a pro-abortion NGO. Her referral, the doctor recalls, said the 19-year-old woman had an unwanted pregnancy: she had a fever and contractions and was carrying a live fetus with a positive heartbeat. She also brought an ultrasound giving evidence of an advanced pregnancy. She had no dilation or bleeding, the doctor stated.

Rodriguez also confirmed that the woman was 22 and a half weeks pregnant (this is beyond viability in places where appropriate care can be given), and her baby weighed over 500 grams.

He is now accused of having reversed the action of the abortion pills given to the victim by prescribing medication to stop her contractions, thereby putting a stop to a legal abortion that was underway. During the proceedings leading up to his trial, he repeatedly told the media that he had no way of knowing whether the patient was telling the truth or whether the NGO had actually given her Misoprostol or something else.

“I couldn’t take that seriously, I couldn't know what they’d really given her. As it was a clandestine group, I couldn’t check which drug had been ingested. The pregnancy was 22 and a half weeks along and the fetus weighed 500 grams. Abortifacient pills are used for much less advanced pregnancies; these present other complications,” he stressed.

His first reaction when the woman was brought in was to avoid a septic abortion “due to contamination with a bacterium similar to that produced by tetanus, which is common when procedures are performed in places that do not have proper asepsis. It’s a highly deadly syndrome.”

“Medical procedure involves assessing the whole context. Here I have a patient I don’t know everything about. They’re saying to me: how can you not know that Misoprostol causes fever? Of course I know that, but I couldn’t tell if that was really the cause. I had to evaluate it, ask for a blood culture, a urine culture, flow culture. I gave her antibiotics. There was a risk to the patient’s life,” he explained.

Rodriguez also explained to the press that “the procedures and deadlines established by the non-punishable abortion protocol were not even met.” “I don't doubt the woman's word about rape, but according to the WHO itself, from week 22 and above 500 grams of the fetus, it is no longer an abortion,” he added.

He gave a graphic description of an abortion procedure at that stage, by “dilation and curettage.” “First, the fetus must be killed, which is done by injecting saline water into the uterus. Then the dilation is provoked and with an instrument similar to a spoon, it is extracted … one works a little blindly. I’ve had to do it in cases of intrauterine death, and it’s horrible. In this case, the fetus was alive.”

Having taken the necessary steps to ensure the woman’s own safety, and taking into account the fact that an abortion in her circumstances could be life-threatening, Dr. Rodriguez had a meeting with his colleagues next day and, with the woman’s consent, decided with his team to set a date for a caesarian section as soon as the baby would have good chances of surviving, at seven and a half months.

This is what happened, and both lives were saved.

“I acted according to correct medical practices, and I didn’t violate any rules. What’s more, Law 4796 says the doctor has ten days to resolve these cases,” says Rodriguez.

During the first day of the trial at Cipolletto, a female doctor who saw the patient before she was transferred to Pedro Moguillansky Hospital, Ayelén Mirenski from Fernandez Oro Hospital, told the judge that together with her colleagues, she sent the girl to the feminist group “La Revuelta” and that she later heard that abortifacient pills had been given.

This illegal act has not prompted action against the said doctors. During the first hearing, they also admitted that they had made a mistake in not recording certain details in the patient’s clinical history. Answering questions from both sides, they also underscored her psychological fragility: “She was a girl with serious problems who had committed several acts of self-aggression.”

So wasn’t sending her to a feminist NGO a completely irresponsible act?

According to reports in the Argentinean press, the girl attempted suicide in October 2018. Pro-abortion sources say she was under stress because the legal proceedings against Dr. Rodriguez were taking so long. She was heard in a closed session by the tribunal this Monday to protect her identity, and according to journalists present, she appeared downcast and answered only in monosyllables. Would she have felt better if she had killed her own child, or would that have pushed her over the edge?

Dr. Leandro Rodriguez Lastro has received the support of national congressman David Schlereth, who brought him a letter from several pro-life legislators on the eve of the trial.

“This trial is absurd because it is acting in a case that does not even fit into what the protocol and provincial law say, because of the advanced stage of pregnancy. Above all,” said Schlereth in a telephone conversation with Infobae, “you cannot judge someone who in everything acted in accordance with the rules and protocols, in addition to his Hippocratic oath. It’s barbaric from every point of view: legal, medical, and political. We are also raising issues that were already raised during the debate on the legalization of abortion. For example, no one did anything to persecute the rapist, nor against the people who medicated her without having the power to do so. Instead, they’re showing great hostility against the doctor.”

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