Woman from El Salvador Demands the Right to an Abortion

Woman in El Salvador is struggling for her life. Going by the name of
‘Beatriz’ in order to preserve her anonymity, she is 22 years old and
critically ill. She is now about 24 weeks pregnant, with an
anencephalic, non-viable fetus: basically, the fetus’ brain has been
deformed in such a way that it cannot survive outside of the womb.

herself is suffering from lupus, hypertension, and kidney disease.
Her doctors have warned her that these problems could kill her if an
abortion is not performed. However, abortion in El Salvador is
illegal. The law formerly allowed abortion to be performed in limited
circumstances (such as to save the woman’s life) but since 1998, all
of these exceptions were removed, making the treatment illegal in all
circumstances. If Beatriz and her doctors were to go through with the
life-saving treatment, her and her doctors could end up in prison.
The maximum sentence being 50 years. According to the Center for
Reproductive Rights, three women are already serving prison sentences
for going through with an illegal abortion.

Salvador has a strong Catholic population, with church officials
being heavily involved in politics, and able to make sure that their
values influence public policy. This is one reason why the country
has such a strict prohibition of abortion. The Catholic Church
explicitly teaches that human life exists at the moment of
conception, and that from conception the fertilised egg must possess
the full rights of a person.

Catholic Church in El Salvador has spoken out about the issue, but
their views are hardly sympathetic. Jose Luis Escobar, the Archbishop
of El Salvador, referred to Beatriz getting an abortion, saying that,
“it’s incredible, it’s inhuman, it’s against nature.” He went on
to say, “Sure, she [Beatriz] has health problems, but she’s not in
grave danger of death.
we need to consider both lives we need to ask, whose life is in
greater danger. We think that the fetus is in greater danger.”

on the Archbishop’s statement, it is clear that he is unaware of the
danger that Beatriz is actually in. He is also unaware that an
anencephalic fetus will have no life to live. Medical law really
should reflect medical expertise, and not the opinion of one faith
which says that a deformed fetus has more value than the life of a
young woman.

month, Beatriz begged the president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes,
to intervene in the case, saying: “This baby inside me cannot
survive. I am ill. I want to live”. This powerful plea was then
reiterated to the courts in the following month.

case has attracted the attention of many groups who are also pressing
the courts to intervene. Many reproductive rights groups and human
rights organisations, such as Amnestry International, have petitioned
the court to take immediate action. El Salvador’s Minister of Health,
Maria Isabel Rodriguez, stressed for the court to intervene before
Beatriz’s kidney condition becomes even worse. She said that Beatriz
is in need of an “urgent medical abortion”.

countries in Latin America also deny the right to an abortion. But,
women have still had access to this treatment when it has threatened
their health. Marianne Mollman from the Huffington Post has
interviewed a handful of Latin American women who were able to
negotiate with public health officials who allowed the abortion so
long as the women kept it a secret. The illegality of the procedure
was not an issue. What was an issue was the risk of creating negative

leniency in other Latin American countries, the Salvadoran government
are upholding its abortion law without any consideration for
Beatriz’s life. Furthermore, it’s not as if by upholding this law the
government is protecting “innocent human life”. The fetus is
missing a large portion of its brain and it will not survive outside
of the womb. The law, in this instance (and most likely in many
others) is failing to protect the interests of both the mother and
the fetus.

a recent decision, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights expressed
its view that governments cannot produce laws which reflect only one
particular religion. To do so would infringe on the rights of those
who do not belong to that particular religion, or who might not
belong to any religion at all. Governments should owe everyone the
same rights, regardless of their sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and
faith. If it is the views of the Catholic Church are the force behind
El Salvador’s abortion law, then the interests, views, and opinions
of other belief systems (such as those which support abortion) are
being denied their full expression. What’s worse is that this unjust
influence of one religion is actually putting the lives of pregnant
women at risk.

Supreme Court of El Salvador accepted the case, but have postponed
its hearing. This is a very volatile situation because the more
advanced the pregnancy becomes, the more dangerous it will become to
perform an abortion. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that this case
has reignited the debate over whether El Salvador should legalise


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