Dr. Graciela Lukin: ‘I was born to do what I’m doing’
Argentinian provider Dr. Graciela Lukin on what motivates her
Read the profile in Spanish here.
Graciela Lukin always wanted to help people. At 17, when people began to ask her what she planned to do after high school, she decided she wanted to pursue medicine. She enrolled in the University of Buenos Aires’ School of Medicine, where she would complete her entire medical education, specializing in obstetrics.
“I knew that this was my thing. If today, 40 years later, I had to choose again, I would not hesitate to do the same thing all over again,” Lukin said. “I was born to do what I’m doing.” During her residency, she learned to support and advocate for women throughout the spectrum of their reproductive health lives and needs.
While Lukin has found herself in different positions throughout her career—including as a hospital’s Chief of Gynecology and now as an obstetrician gynecologist at the Buenos Aires Provincial Ministry of Health—her commitment to upholding the right to safe abortion care has remained constant. Her boldness comes in part from her family history: her maternal grandmother died from a septic abortion, orphaning Graciela’s mother at age 12. “For every woman I help have a safe abortion, there is a 12-year-old girl who does not need to shed tears for becoming an orphan.”’
Motivated by the ‘ability to put myself in other people’s shoes’
Lukin received training from Ipas on comprehensive abortion care and credits Ipas with helping her not only be a more skilled clinician but for lighting a fire in her to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
When she began her residency in 1978, physicians were required to report to the police all instances of a woman bleeding between normal menstrual periods or during pregnancy—not only in cases of abortion. “It seemed wrong to me to torture women and ask them over and over, ‘What did you do to yourself? If you don’t tell me, you will die.’”
After leaving residency, she worked in a hospital that saw about 10 women each day who had suspected self-induced abortions; these women needed to end their pregnancies but did not have access to abortion care. Many resulted in serious complications that required hysterectomies. “I felt a lot of empathy for those women, who were desperate, very ill and willing to do anything to not continue their pregnancies,” Lukin said.
Her empathy for women pushed her to make sure that other physicians respected patients’ rights, too. Later in her career, she oversaw a hospital inpatient area and ran a Family-Centered Safe Motherhood project that focused on respecting others. “I instilled in other physicians my respect for patients’ rights and respect for other physicians as well,” she said. “It produced results!”
Working to increase women’s access to safe abortion care
When Lukin started at the hospital, only four physicians would provide abortion care. In 2016, after completing Ipas’s clinical rotation program, she returned to the hospital and built its first abortion care team. By the time she left, “all young physicians, residents or practitioners were working alongside the four of us.”
Her current role at the ministry allows her to make sure physicians are comfortable providing abortion care. “Visiting hospitals that perform abortions later in pregnancy and telling them how WHO says they should be performed—that is my task. I need to let them know that they can count on the Ministry and on me to resolve difficult situations. They need to know that they are not alone.”
Advocating for people who need abortions later in pregnancy
Argentina’s legal system creates barriers for people who need abortions later in pregnancy; ob-gyns—who are responsible for performing these procedures—are often reluctant to perform them. Delays often result, which can endanger the lives of people who need this care. Lukin collaborates with hospitals that provide abortion care later in pregnancy, and through this work, she has realized that, many times, physicians simply need more training.
“We need to support those teams and provide them with the tools to perform safe procedures. It has been shown that performing abortions later in pregnancy is necessary for decreasing maternal mortality,” Lukin said. “It is very important that women do not have to pay with their lives for choosing not to become mothers.”