El Salvador’s Supreme Court has decided to deny a 22-year-old woman a lifesaving abortion, ruling against making a medical exception to the conservative nation’s stringent abortion ban. Without an abortion, the woman will likely die — along with her nonviable fetus, which is missing its brain.
Identified in the press only as “Beatriz,” the young Salvadoran woman suffers from a chronic health condition that worsens when she is pregnant, and her doctors have warned that she is at “high risk of death” if she continues to carry her fetus. Several ultrasounds have revealed that, even if Beatriz does survive to carry the fetus to full term, it has virtually no chance of survival because it has no brain.
Beatriz has been fighting for an abortion for the past three months, and several international human rights organizations have taken up her case. But it’s been an uphill battle in her deeply Catholic nation, where abortion is illegal under absolutely all circumstances and punishable by up to 30 years in prison. After El Salvador’s attorney general refused to grant Beatriz and her doctors an exception to the harsh law, the pregnant woman turned to the Supreme Court.
And on Wednesday, the highest court in the country denied Beatriz permission to access the medical care that would save her life. El Salvador’s Supreme Court took several weeks to deliberate Beatriz’s case in consultation with the Institute of Legal Medicine, which advises the court on medical issues. The Institute determined that Beatriz’s health “was not yet in absolute danger.”
There are no options left. “We cannot appeal the case because this was the last step, the Supreme Court,” Victor Hugo Mata, the lawyer representing Beatriz, told CBS News.
Beatriz has been hospitalized for the last several months, separated from her husband and 14-month-old son. And even though the country’s Institute of Legal Medicine claims that Beatriz isn’t in critical condition yet, a group of her doctors have warned that her health is deteriorating daily. Earlier this month, Beatriz recorded a personal appeal to her president to intervene and save her life. “President Mauricio Funes Cartagena, help me please,” she begged. “This baby inside me cannot survive. I am ill. I want to live… I want to live for my son.” That help has not come for Beatriz.
“It’s a situation where the risk increases as time goes on — and a lot of the risks could have been avoided if the Salvadoran government had reasonable regulations in place that when the life of the mother is at risk, the health of the mother is threatened, there would be an exception to their outright ban on abortions,” Larry Ladutke, an Amnesty Internationl specialist on El Salvador, explained.
Lilian Sepúlveda, the global legal program director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision to deny Beatriz a life-saving abortion is “an appalling and disgraceful violation of her fundamental human rights” and pointed out that “Salvadoran women have been paying an unacceptably high price for El Salvador’s abortion ban.” Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Beatriz’s country. Around the world, thousands of women die every year because they lack access to safe reproductive care. Even here in the United States, where women have the right to legal abortion services, anti-choice lawmakers have still successfully imposed barriers to reproductive care — even in similar situations as Beatriz’s, when women are carrying fetuses with no brain function.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest human rights courts in the Americas, has ordered El Salvador to provide Beatriz with the care that will save her life. This is the first case on abortion that the court has ever considered. As RH Reality Check reports, since El Salvador is a member state of the Organization of American States and a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights, its government is obligated to comply with the Inter-American Court’s order — and has until June 7 to provide a report that proves that it’s doing so.
El Salvador’s Health Minister announced on Thursday that Beatriz will be allowed to end her pregnancy by having a Cesarean section. Because her pregnancy is past 26 weeks, the country’s health officials now have the authority to decide which medical procedures she may receive to safeguard her life. A C-section is not the same thing as an abortion procedure, but it will achieve the same ends. Beatriz’s nonviable fetus is not expected to survive the surgery.