Protection from the moment of conception: dynamics behind the success of Peru's pro-life movement

By Javier Bolaños |

In the heart of Lima, beneath the shadow of the grand Cathedral, a sea of people gathered, their voices rising in a chorus of fervent chants. United by a singular cause, a belief that transcended the bustling city’s noise and reached into the very halls of the Peruvian Congress, the crowd cheered for the right to life of the unborn and the one who became a symbol of the struggle to protect it: Milagros Aguayo.

Milagros Peru Pro-Life
Milagros Aguayo at a pro-life rally in Peru. | Evangelico Digital / Youtube Screenshot

A figure that has inspired both reverence and controversy, Aguayo presents herself as someone standing firm against the tide of modernity. She was the one who championed a law that she argued would safeguard the sanctity of life from the very moment of its inception.

And at the end of March last year, the law protecting the unborn life from conception was passed by an overwhelming majority vote of 72-26 in Peru’s Congress signifying an important accomplishment of the pro-life movement in Peru.

However, while the large margin in favor of the law indicated a substantial support base within the legislative body, the public opinion has been diverse and complex, revealing that it does not necessarily align with the convictions of all Peruvians. The law's approval has in fact sparked debates and discussions among the public that continue to this day, reflecting the diverse views on the issue of the rights of the unborn child.

"Through this bill, I have sought to establish directly, specifically and unequivocally that the conceived child has rights such as the right to life, to health, to integrity, to an identity and to other rights that favor the child," Aguayo argued at that time.

Milagros Aguayo speaking in Congress.
Milagros Aguayo speaking in Congress. | Milagros Aguayo Facebook

Describing herself as a "mother, wife, pastor, and defender of life and family," she and her husband Guillermo have been pastors of La Casa del Padre [The Father’s House] church in Lima since 2006. During the 2021 general elections where she ran for office as a member of the right-wing Renovación Popular party, she received 68,003 votes leading her to become a congresswoman.

Her outspoken views on certain issues has made her a popular but also controversial figure in Peruvian politics. Apart from her efforts in advancing the protection of the unborn, she has been the subject of criticism for her stance that within the family, wives should be subject to the authority of their husbands.

On the pro-life issue, she sought to remove any legal ambiguity about the right of the unborn by proposing a bill that specified that life begins from the moment of conception, which is understood as the union of an ovum and a spermatozoon. In other words, a human being has legal rights already as an embryo from the very beginning of pregnancy and not only after birth.

The successful passing of Bill 785 by the Peruvian Congress, however, has sparked a range of reactions. It has also been met with concern or outright opposition from various organizations and individuals across the political spectrum.

The Ombudsman's Office openly expressed its objection to the law through a statement published on X (formerly known as Twitter). "The approval of Bill 785 is a setback for women's sexual and reproductive rights. It fails to comply with international standards in situations where it is appropriate to apply the therapeutic abortion protocol and free and timely access to Emergency Oral Contraception, such as in cases of rape, in which most of the victims are girls and teenagers, thus avoiding forced pregnancies," it stated at that time. 

But even among supporters of pro-life legislation, some expressed doubts whether the law was the right approach. For some constitutional attorneys such as the conservative Juan José Uchuya, President of the National Network of Pro-Family Lawyers, the approval of this law has been a mistake in the defense of life because it took away the constitutional character of the defense of the unborn child lowering it to the rank of a law. The issue should have remained at the constitutional level, he argued.

Despite these voices, the approval of such a law was a unique legislative accomplishment by a pro-life movement in Latin America and stands in contrast to some of the dynamics seen in other countries in the region. To better understand what led to this development, it is important to consider the socio-economic reality that Peru has experienced historically and in the more recent past.

Christianity, specifically Catholicism, has been the most widely professed religion in Peru for a long time. In more recent years, however, evangelical Christianity has seen significant growth. This is attributed to the country’s increasing religious diversity and the decades of ministry by missionaries and local partners throughout the country. Evangelicalism now represents 14% of the population, according to the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). This religious development has played a significant role in shaping the country's stance on issues such as the sanctity of life.

Another factor is that the pro-life movement in Peru is represented by various organizations and individuals who are against all types of abortion. One of the most prominent organizations among them is "Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas" (Don't Mess With My Children), which was founded by Milagros Aguayo and her husband among other leaders. It was launched in Lima in 2016 in opposition to the Peruvian government's public policies for the implementation of a gender approach in education. Although it claims to be independent of any political and religious ideology, it has the support of many evangelical Christians and members of the Renovación Popular party.

The organization has coordinated several large-scale rallies in Peru with tens of thousands of people on the streets. Its ability to mobilize such masses as well as the election of Milagros Aguayo, one of its representative voices, as congresswoman, shows the social and political weight of conservatives in Peru.

Finally, while it's difficult to ascertain a direct link between the timing of this legislation and specific international events, such as the repeal of Roe v Wade in the United States, it seems evident that the global attention and dynamics related to issues like abortion can influence legislative decisions in various countries. The recent landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to abortion has undoubtedly inspired the pro-life movement throughout Latin America.