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Abortion criminalized under all circumstances
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Court stopped woman from terminating her pregnancy despite the risk to her life.

The case of Beatriz, pseudonym of a 22-year old woman suffering from lupus and kidney problems who was denied an abortion for a pregnancy which posed a serious risk to her life, has brought to the fore the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy when her life is in danger.

In March, a few weeks into her pregnancy, lawyers at the National Maternity Hospital requested permission from the government to carry out a termination, due to the “strong likelihood of maternal death” because the fetus did not develop a complete skull and brain, making its life outside the womb impossible. However, the Attorney General warned that it would impose the penalty set by law if Beatriz were to undergo abortion.

Since 1998, all forms of abortion have been made illegal in El Salvador and are punishable with 50 years of incarceration for the mother and 12 for the doctor who performs the procedure.

On Apr. 11, Beatriz presented a demand for the authorization to terminate her pregnancy to the country’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court on the grounds of her serious health condition and stated that the fetus would not survive. On May 30, the court denied the request stating that “the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child, or vice versa,” and that “there is an absolute bar to authorize an abortion for going against the constitutional protection afforded to the individual ‘from the moment of conception’.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights organization based in New York, said that the threat of criminal prosecution against Beatriz was “a violation of her fundamental human rights.”

“Application of El Salvador’s restrictive abortion laws in this case may have a devastating impact on Beatriz’s right to life.
Further, several United Nations human rights bodies have found that restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion may give rise to situations that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including when a women is forced to carry a non-viable pregnancy to term,” HRW said in a letter sent in mid-May to President Mauricio Funes, invoking him to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of Beatriz.

On Apr. 29, the IACHR asked the government to take the necessary measures to implement the treatment recommended by doctors within 72 hours, before it affects mother’s rights to life, integrity and health. However, the government never responded to the request.

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar, called the case “a ploy” to legalize abortion. “What they want is to open the door to abortion [in El Salvador]”, said Escobar at a news conference, adding that it was untrue that Beatriz was suffering from kidney failure and the intention of those in favor of abortion was to make believe that she was “dying”.

Finally, Beatriz, who was 26 weeks pregnant, underwent a premature Caesarean section on June 4 and her baby died five hours after the birth. According to the attending physicians, Beatriz had contractions and amniotic fluid accumulation.

Health Minister María Isabel Rodríguez supported the decision of the doctors who decided that the procedure was necessary. According to her, the medical intervention was not an abortion and therefore did not contravene the court ruling.

“In no way have [the doctors) breached the decision of the court or the IACHR request, which meant that the mother had to be given all the necessary protection to save her life, while analyzing how long one could wait and do the utmost to save the baby´s life,” said Rodríguez.

Besides El Salvador, in Latin America abortion in all its forms is prohibited in Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic. Only in Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay this procedure is legal.

Many experts agree that the laws prohibiting abortion particularly affect poor women who are forced to undergo unsafe, clandestine and dangerous abortions while wealthy women have access to safe procedures, even if they break the law
. —Latinamerica Press.

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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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