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Human Rights Experts Call on El Salvador to Review Harsh Abortion Laws

Jodi Jacobson

In May, the same group of experts urged the government of El Salvador to act swiftly to provide a safe abortion for Beatriz, the 22-year-old woman whose pregnancy was finally terminated via hysterotomy abortion earlier this week.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

Independent experts from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Tuesday called on the government of El Salvador to review its abortion laws and policies.

The experts include Anand Grover, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; Kamala Chandrakirana, chairperson of the working group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; and Rashida Manjoo, special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences.

In May, the same group of experts urged the government of El Salvador to act swiftly to provide a safe abortion for Beatriz, the 22-year-old woman whose pregnancy was finally terminated with a hysterotomy earlier this week.

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A total abortion ban is in effect in El Salvador, and women are denied access to abortion care no matter the circumstances and no matter the threat to their lives or health, leading to cases like that of Beatriz, where an international campaign was launched to pressure the government to act.

“It is high time to reconsider the serious consequences on women’s rights of the abortion legislation and practice in El Salvador, and to afford the legal protection that all women in the country deserve,” the human rights experts said in a press release from the OHCHR. The experts also reiterated their call to ensure all persons, including women, the protection and full enjoyment of the right to life and to the highest attainable standard of health, in accordance with international human rights law.

As noted in the OHCHR release:

On 28 May, the Salvadorian Supreme Court ruled, by a vote decision of four to one, to deny a writ of rights, “amparo,” to Beatriz (name withdrawn to protect her identity) to undergo a therapeutic abortion, despite the probability that the foetus may die before or shortly after birth due to the brain condition, as proved to be the case this Monday 3 June. The judges voting for the ruling considered that the threat to her life was not actual, but eventual. Should health complications imminently place her life at risk, the Court opened the possibility for medical interventions.

The experts strongly condemned the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador rejecting a young woman’s request to terminate a life-threatening pregnancy. While welcoming the decision on this case by high public officials, including the Minister of Health, that allowed an alternative procedure to be carried out, the experts expressed their hope that medical professionals who provided the required treatment will not be sanctioned.

“This Court ruling exposed the physical and mental health of Beatriz to serious risk, which could eventually threaten her life,” said Grover, Méndez, Chandrakirana, and Manjoo.

Moreover, they noted, “The court’s decision is in clear contravention of El Salvador’s human rights obligations, including article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women to which El Salvador is party.”

“An absolute ban on abortion, when the result is serious risk to the life and health of the woman, constitutes a violation of the State’s obligation to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the experts said.

Many countries have moved in recent years to liberalize abortion laws. In El Salvador, no such steps have been taken.

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