This week two international human rights bodies called on the government of El Salvador to act expeditiously in providing an abortion to Beatriz, a 22-year old woman with uncontrolled lupus whose pregnancy is threatening her life. El Salvador has a total abortion ban; there are no exceptions for the health or the life of a pregnant woman, or in cases of rape or incest.
Pregnant with an anencephalic fetus, Beatriz (a pseudonym) is desperately ill and facing renal failure. She and her husband are parents of a toddler. Her family is desperately poor, and with each day that passes, the likelihood of serious and life-long medical complications requiring treatment, such as dialysis, increases dramatically. These complications will incur further costs her family cannot possibly afford and compromise their future economic security.
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Both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are urging the government of El Salvador to act swiftly to save Beatriz. The Office of the High Commissioner called the situation “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
We urge the Government of El Salvador to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and full enjoyment of the right to life, and to the highest attainable standard of health for Beatriz, in accordance with international human rights law,” said the UN experts on right to health, torture, and violence and discrimination against women, Anand Grover, Juan E. Méndez, Rashida Manjoo and Kamala Chandrakirana.
This diagnosis of Beatriz’s condition was issued by the authorities of the Specialized National Maternity Hospital in San Salvador in March, and reiterated by the National Bioethics Commission of El Salvador (CNBES) through a statement last Tuesday. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that her foetus is anencephalic and with no extra-uterine viability.
“This situation of uncertainty has increased the suffering of Beatriz as she is aware of the health conditions of the foetus and the risk of death she faces, and is forced to go through a cruel, inhumane and degrading situation,” the independent experts stressed.
Yesterday, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights also called on the government to provide a life-saving abortion for Beatriz.
These actions come after concerted efforts by health and rights advocacy groups inside the country to save Beatriz’s life, alongside those by Amnesty International and Rewire, among others. As reported by Voices From El Salvador, doctors and medical authorities within the country have been urging action for some time. Two weeks ago, doctors at the National Maternity Hospital filed an appeal with the Salvadoran Supreme Court, asking it to give the OK on terminating the pregnancy to save Beatriz’s life. The court asked the National Bioethics Commission of El Salvador (CNBES, in Spanish) for its opinion, which it provided this week. The CNBES advised the court that Beatriz’s doctors should be allowed to immediately proceed with the potentially life-saving procedure.
Citizens Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a group that advocates for legalization of abortion in El Salvador, also supports Beatriz’s case. The group is using the case to demonstrate why it believes abortion should be safe and legal. On Thursday, April 25, the group asked the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to intervene.
Lic. Oscar Luna, the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights in El Salvador, published a statement on April 16 also supporting Beatriz’s case as a human rights issue, stressing the mother’s right to life. He wrote in 2009, “the complete ban of abortion greatly increases the pain and suffering of women and girls, including those who seek medical attention for complications that require an abortion… because the penalty for abortion causes physical pain, fear, depression, and prison. In many occasions the suffering can lead to death or suicide.”
Luna says, “During my term [as Ombudsman], I have insisted that the human rights approach to health care ought to have an integral focus, taking into account the needs and requirements particular to women during all the different stages of life; and that in all forms, it is urgent to double up the efforts to decrease the causes of mortality and morbidity in El Salvador.” He concluded that the medical team should “use all means necessary to protect Beatriz’s right to life, health, and personal integrity.
However, powerful forces within the country oppose providing this urgently needed care for Beatriz. Voices reports that the “Catholic Church and Yes to Life oppose allowing Beatriz to terminate her pregnancy, even if it means that she loses her own life.”
“In one sense,” writes Voices, “Beatriz’s case is extreme – it is a potentially life or death situation for her. But in many ways her case is not that different from other Salvadoran women who are socially and economically marginalized, lack knowledge of or access to contraception, and have little control over when and with whom that have sexual intercourse.”
Efforts to save Beatriz now turn to the government of El Salvador. To help increase the pressure on the government to act quickly, please sign our petition. The more international press and visibility we can give to this case, the more quickly the government is likely to act.