El Salvador's Supreme Court continues to stall on lifesaving abortion case

The court has yet to rule on a seriously ill woman's petition to terminate a non-viable pregnancy

Published April 26, 2013 6:57PM (EDT)

   (Agrupación Ciudadana Por la Despenalización Del Aborto)
(Agrupación Ciudadana Por la Despenalización Del Aborto)

El Salvador's Supreme Court has still not ruled to allow a critically ill woman access to lifesaving abortion care, despite petitions from the woman and her family, medical professionals, El Salvador's Ministry of Health, reproductive rights activists and international human rights groups like Amnesty International.

The court has only issued a temporary directive that the woman, identified only as Beatriz, be given "necessary medical care" while they consider her petition for an abortion. But time is short, as Amnesty's Human Rights Project Coordinator Kathryn R. Striffolino told Salon on Thursday:

What it comes down to is that -- while the government is debating this, while the court is debating this, every minute that goes by -- Beatriz is suffering cruel and inhumane treatment. She is reaching the five month mark and the court has yet to rule.

As Salon previously reported, Beatriz is 22 years old and five months into a pregnancy with a non-viable, anencephalic (developing without a brain and certain parts of the skull) fetus. Doctors have diagnosed Beatriz as being at high risk for pregnancy-related death due to health complications caused by an autoimmune disease. But, because abortion is banned under all circumstances in El Salvador, Beatriz cannot go forward with the procedure without risking putting herself, and her doctors, in jail.

In addition to petitions from Beatriz's doctors and El Salvadorian reproductive rights groups like Agrupación Ciudadana Por la Despenalización Del Aborto, the country's Minister of Health Maria Isabel Rodriguez wrote a letter asking the court to intervene before Beatriz's kidney function further deteriorates. According to Rodriguez's letter, Beatriz's pregnancy classifies as a serious maternal illness and the court should approve her "urgent medical abortion."

Ministry legal advisor Carlos Castillo has also urged the court to resolve the case quickly and before Beatriz's condition worsens. He also called on the legislature to revisit the law banning all abortion in El Salvador.

Until then, Beatriz, her family and her community must wait.

"Everything is so fluid right now, we just don't know," Striffolino told Salon. "Her life, literally, is in the hands of the court."

More to come as the story develops.



By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Abortion Abortion Care Abortion Rights El Salvador