Crime & Justice

Case from El Salvador puts spotlight on abortion bans in the Americas

San Jose, Mar 22 (EFE).- The case of “Beatriz,” a Salvadoran woman in poor health barred from interrupting a dangerous pregnancy despite evidence that the fetus couldn’t live outside the womb, was taken up Wednesday by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose.

Beatriz died in 2017 of complications from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident and it was her mother who recounted her story to the court, a body of the Organization of American States.

Diagnosed with lupus at the age of 19, Beatriz underwent a high-risk pregnancy in 2011 that resulted in the premature birth of a son afflicted with respiratory distress syndrome and enterocolitis.

She became pregnant again in late 2012 and during a hospital visit for treatment of her lupus, doctors performed an ultrasound scan that showed the fetus had anencephaly.

When Beatriz requested an abortion, the doctors told her it was illegal, but they asked El Salvador’s Medical Council to authorize them to interrupt the pregnancy to safeguard the mother’s life, since the fetus was not viable.

Beatriz, her mother said in court, “wanted only to live and take care of her other child.”

Attorneys for the family asked the Salvadoran high court to allow termination of the life-threatening pregnancy, but the tribunal refused to hear their motion.

Beatriz went into labor on June 3, 2013, in the 26th week of the pregnancy, and doctors performed a cesarean to remove the baby, who died five hours later.

Her physician, Guillermo Ortiz, told the court in San Jose that specialists determined in the 13th week of pregnancy that termination was in order given the risks to Beatriz’s health and the nonviability of the fetus.

“It was the best time to interrupt the embarrassment because the fetus was not going to survive,” the doctor said. “All that was left to us was to care for her health and we couldn’t do it,” because of El Salvador’s absolute ban on abortion.

The cesarean performed at 26 weeks was a premature birth, not an abortion, Ortiz said.

In the course of his career, he said, he has seen “many women who died for lack of access to therapeutic abortion.”

The organizations that helped Beatriz’s family bring the case to the Inter-American Court are hoping that the tribunal rules that El Salvador must allow therapeutic abortion in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

They maintain that such a decision would establish a precedent applicable to other Latin American countries that outlaw the procedure under all circumstances.

In El Salvador, pregnant women who suffer complications that lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, and spontaneous abortions can find themselves charged with homicide.

Outside the court building, anti-abortion protesters chanted about “the right to life starting at conception” while feminists and human rights activists held up placards reading “Justice for Beatriz.” EFE dmm/dr

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