Adolescent sterilization and controversy: what the law says about tubal ligations and vasectomies from age 16

Many questions arose after Publication of the Ministry of Health of the Nation According to age at which young people have access to surgical contraception practices, which usually are irreversible and risky. At 16, is it so clear what these practices mean for the future?

International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Day is celebrated every September 28., which is why during this week all ministries of health in Latin America are distributing information on care to avoid teenage pregnancy and prevent sexually transmitted diseases. However in Argentina, the announcement caused controversy.

This day, the National Health Portfolio promotes the various methods of sexual care and contraception on social media with a series of colorful flyers.



The first post recommended penile condoms, birth control pills, injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices or IUDs, subcutaneous implants, and “morning after pills” as an emergency method.

What made headlines, however, was the following post: “From the age of 16 you have access to free permanent contraceptive methods: ligation and vasectomy”.

Is 16 years old enough to decide not to be a parent? Maybe maybe not. But do teenagers realize what this “consistency” means? Are they sufficiently informed? For some, the Ministry of Health publication was a “spooky” incentive, for others it was simply a way to communicate rights.

The truth is that the portfolio communicated what the various laws dictated. The right of access to contraceptive methods is recognized in laws 25,673 on sexual health and responsible reproduction and 26,130 on surgical contraception.

Both guarantee free access to some of the contraceptive methods of Mandatory medical plan: condoms, pills, injections, IUDs, emergency contraception, surgical contraception (tubal ligation and vasectomy) and subcutaneous implant.

“It is your right, regardless of your age, to have access to information and condoms on your own, without the need for a companion or permission from an adult. From the age of 13, according to the Civil and Commercial Code, it is your right to have independent access to all reversible contraceptive methods,” reads the Nation’s official website.

And more: “The Civil Code recognizes that from the age of 16 you can independently make all decisions regarding the care of your body. You are only required to put your decision in writing after you have received complete and understandable information.

The information reproduced by the ministry is on Article 26 of the Civil Code. Six paragraphs that regulate “Exercise of rights by the minor”and they say thus:

“Exercise of rights by the minor. The minor exercises his rights through his legal representatives.

“However, those who are old enough and have a sufficient degree of maturity can exercise themselves the actions that are permitted by the legal system. In situations of conflict of interest with your legal representatives, you can intervene with legal aid.

“The minor has right to be heard in all legal proceedings affecting him, as well as to participate in decisions concerning his personality.

An adolescent between the ages of thirteen and sixteen is presumed to have the capacity to decide for himself Regarding those treatments that are not invasive, nor do they compromise your health or pose a serious risk to your life or physical integrity.

“If it comes to invasive treatments that compromise your health or integrity or life are at risk, the adolescent must consent with the assistance of his parents; the conflict between the two is resolved, taking into account their best interests, based on the medical opinion on the consequences of performing the medical action or not.

“From the age of sixteen, an adolescent is considered an adult for decisions about the care of his own body.”

Article 26 and its dilemmas

Aren’t vasectomy or tubal ligation invasive treatments? What kind of health does it mean when it says “no compromise on health”? A definition limited to the body or a broad one such as that specified by the World Health Organization (WHO) that includes mental and social well-being? What is the role of the “parents”, if there are any, if they are close?

Rosario3 consulted with Civil and Commercial Judge, Marcelo Molina, who was also a family judge for a long time, precisely in the disputes surrounding Article 26 of the Code. “This article specifically says that young people from the age of 16 can make decisions about their bodies, they can exercise for themselves the actions that are permitted by the legal system. The dilemma is that the code does not specify what these acts arehe warned.

And he pointed to another problematic issue, the ability to decide: “From 13 to 16, they have the ability to decide for themselves regarding those treatments that are not invasive or compromise their health. This capacity is presumed by law, but it can be proved to the contrary that they do not have it.“.

So how are we to interpret these spaces of indeterminacy left by the laws? How to at least do this without having to resort to a lawyer or to justice itself? What is meant by “non-invasive treatments” or “treatments that do not compromise health or cause serious risk to life or physical integrity”?

The Resolution of the Ministry of Health of the Nation (Res. 65/2015) – to which the text of Law 27,610 on the voluntary termination of pregnancy refers – can serve as a guide, according to Molina. “There, he explained, rules are defined for interpreting the legal capacity of minors in relation to their sexual and reproductive rights. In accordance with this standard the concept of “invasive” is related to that of gravity and risk to life or risk to health”.

for the car of how long is a short time, it is important that adolescents have access to sexual and reproductive information. More than important, extremely important: “Let us not forget this Before making a decision, both young people and adults have the right and duty to be informed.”

The key then is to know. And in this sense, as controversial as they were, the MoH publications were a first step. Maybe too short.

At 16 – and always, really –, the medical staff should inform you about: what does a vasectomy or tubal ligation mean for your health; the characteristics of the operation, its reversibility, its risks and consequences, and the possibility of using other non-surgical contraceptive methods. And if the doctor refuses to operate because of his religious beliefs or ethical principles, the health facility must provide another specialist to replace him.

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