Ana María † (2006) – Argentina

Pregnant woman with cancer dies after being denied treatment and termination

In September 2006, Ana María Acevedo, a 19-year-old and mother of three children, went to her local hospital due to dental pain. After carrying out extractions and tests, the patient returned in October with a facial swelling. After undergoing more tests, Ana María was referred to specialists for an evaluation and was sent to JM Cullen Hospital in Santa Fe. She was diagnosed with cancer and referred to the Iturraspe Hospital for oncological treatment. In November they planned to treat her with chemotherapy but discovered she was 4-5 weeks pregnant.

Without informing Ana María or her parents that an abortion was a legal alternative in order to begin treatment for the cancer, the doctors said they couldn’t do anything because pregnancy was a contraindication for carrying out the treatment, and chemotherapy would have harmful effects. They did not give Ana María any medication or treatment, despite severe pain in her face and neck, and despite the fact that she and her mother repeatedly requested that the pregnancy be terminated so that they could treat her. (Later, the Minister of Health and the doctors falsely claimed that a termination had never been requested.)

At the parent’s request, the doctors involved the hospital’s Bioethics Committee, which said life-saving treatment could not be carried out because the patient was pregnant, and in answer to the question, Has a therapeutic abortion been considered at any point? replied: «Due to the beliefs and religious and cultural tenets at this hospital (and in Santa Fe), no.»

Now desperate, Ana María’s parents spoke to the hospital director who told them they had to get a court order for an abortion. The family also requested help from the ombudsman’s office, but no help was provided. The lack of services caused intolerable, intense pain as well deformation to her face that was spreading to cover her entire face and neck. Ana María’s health continued to deteriorate and she only received treatment for pain. 

On April 26, 2007, when Ana María was 22 weeks pregnant, doctors decided to perform a caesarean section because she was “pre-mortem, that is, with marked respiratory failure and organ failure, and everything indicated that the outcome was imminent.» The baby died within 24 hours. After a rapid deterioration in health, Ana María died on May 17, 2007. After her death, her parents launched a lawsuit, and the court convicted the doctors involved for the crimes of negligent injuries and non-compliance with the duties of a public official, setting the precedent that not practicing a legal abortion may constitute a crime.

Sources: The Death of Ana María Acevedo: Rallying Cry for the Women’s Movement. Multisectorial de Mujeres de Santa Fe, Argentina. AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development).

Women’s Link Worldwide. Ana María Acevedo case. 2010.