The Inter-American Human Rights Commission has accepted a case filed on behalf of Beatriz,
a Salvadoran woman who was denied a therapeutic abortion when her pregnancy threatened her health and her life. Beatriz case is exemplary of systematic violation of women’s reproductive rights in El Salvador through state’s policies and laws that don’t allow pregnant women’s access to live saving medical care.
Beatriz a young Salvadoran woman with lupus and kidney disease, made international news in 2013 when she was denied a therapeutic abortion by her country’s high court. Her doctors had recommended the abortion because her pregnancy could permanently damage her health and the fetus was unlikely to survive.
After a special petition filed in May 2013 by several civil society groups on Beatriz’ behalf, the IACHR ordered El Salvador to ensure she could have a therapeutic abortion. However, without any clear agreement from the government, doctors refused to perform the procedure for fear of prosecution. Instead, Beatriz was compelled to continue her pregnancy until doctors performed a caesarian section in the 26th week; the infant died within hours.
Motivated by the physical and mental damage that Beatriz suffered during her pregnancy and legal procedures, several civil society groups—the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local de El Salvador (Feminist Collective for Local Development in El Salvador), la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico de El Salvador (Citizens for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical, and Eugenic Abortion in El Salvador), Ipas Central America, and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL, Center for Justice and International Law)—filed a lawsuit against El Salvador before the commission in November 2013. The current case claims that El Salvador’s law banning abortion violated Beatriz’s (and by extension, all Salvadoran women’s) human rights protected under the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
“The suit aims to ensure that other women don’t have to face the suffering that Beatriz experienced when her health and life were at risk,” says Marta Maria Blandon, Ipas Central America country director. “This development is truly important; it’s unusual for ICHR to expedite actions. We’re pleased to see that the court recognizes the gravity of this situation,” she adds.
The decision to accept the case follows a statement issued by the Commission on International Women’s Day expressing concern about the negative impact of criminalizing abortion under all circumstances, including the contribution of unsafe abortion to maternal mortality. Currently, El Salvador is one of seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is banned without exception.
According to data from the Agrupación Ciudadana, between 2000 and 2011, 129 women have been prosecuted in El Salvador for the crimes of abortion or aggravated murder, with sentences ranging from two to forty years in prison. Currently, 15 women are serving criminal sentences due to pregnancy-related complications.
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