A woman who faces a life-threatening, non-viable pregnancy may have to choose between saving her life or going to jail in El Salvador.
“Beatriz”, who is currently 22 and already a mother of a young infant, was diagnosed with multiple severe illness and is 18 weeks pregnant. In addition, the fetus will not survive more than a few days outside the womb (if at all) due to a severe fetal abnormality where part of the brain does not develop. Doctors fear that if she continues with the pregnancy, Beatriz could lose her life. But abortion in any circumstance is illegal in El Salvador, and if Beatriz and her doctors proceed with the abortion without approval from the Supreme Court they could face up to 30 years in jail for aggravated homicide.
Beatriz and her hospital have petitioned the Supreme Court in El Salvador to permit an abortion. While the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, the Court has not released anything related to the case in the month since the hospital sought permission to treat Beatriz. Since the request was submitted, her condition has worsened.
The case has gathered support from the Salvadoran Minister of Health, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriquez, as well as the feminist group Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugénesico (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion). Earlier this month, Agrupacion petitioned the Supreme Court to allow Beatriz to have the life-saving procedure. In a press conference on the issue the group told reporters, “While we are talking, while the Court is thinking and the government is delaying, Beatriz is suffering… The Salvadoran government has clear obligations, international as well as domestic, to protect Beatriz’s life, and to assure that Beatriz can access vital treatment as soon as possible” [translated at RH Reality Check].
Beatriz’s case has also gained international attention from the United Nations and Amnesty International. Amnesty International’s researcher on Central America, Esther Major, said in a statement, “Beatriz’s situation is desperate and must not wait any longer. Her very chances of survival depend on a decision from the authorities… We hope that the Supreme Court treats this case with the urgency it merits, given that Beatriz’s life and health are at risk. She is suffering cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in being denied the medical intervention she so urgently needs.” Roberto Valent, the Resident Coordinator the UN in El Salvador, has urged authorities [SPANISH] to resolve the case quickly.
Many activists are wondering if the conservative climate of El Salvador will result in a case similar to Savita Halappanavar’s death in Ireland. In November 2012, Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she arrived at University Hospital Galway complaining of severe back pain. Hospital staff determined she was miscarrying, however doctors refused to remove the pregnancy until three days later because the fetus still had a heartbeat. After the pregnancy was removed, Savita was transferred to intensive care where she died three days later of what was determined to be septicaemia (similar to blood poisoning).