Group sues government of El Salvador over treatment of critically ill pregnant women, ban on abortion

The suit alleges the Salvadoran government is guilty of human rights abuses and urges change to its abortion law

Published December 4, 2013 2:33PM (EST)

     (Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto)
(Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto)

Feminist and human rights groups in El Salvador are suing the government over its treatment of a critically ill pregnant women and the country's ban on abortion under all circumstances.

The groups filed the suit on behalf of Beatriz, a 22-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant with a nonviable, anencephalic fetus when she filed an emergency request with El Salvador's Supreme Court for a therapeutic abortion. Abortion is illegal without exception in El Salvador, but Beatriz' doctors warned her that -- because of severe health complications related to lupus, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease -- she would likely not survive the pregnancy.

For more than a month, the court ignored Beatriz' urgent health request -- supported by her doctors, El Salvador's health minister and international human rights organizations -- while she languished in a hospital, away from her family and young son.

In June, the court ruled that Beatriz could not have the abortion that would save her life, but granted that doctors could take "necessary steps" to save her life. The procedure, which the government called an "emergency cesarean" but was actually a hysterotomy -- a form of abortion carried out through cesarean -- saved her life.

The lawsuit against the government alleges, quite correctly, it seems, that Beatriz suffered needlessly while being denied emergency medical care. But it also accuses the government of multiple human rights violations against Beatriz and other women who are criminalized due to El Salvador's absolute ban on abortion care.

More on the suit from Kathy Bougher at RH Reality Check:

The lawsuit demands the reparation of the damages suffered by Beatriz and seeks to order the Salvadoran government to modify its laws in order to fully guarantee women the right to health, personal integrity, reproductive rights, and effective judicial protections.

The petitioning organizations assert that the Salvadoran government is responsible for the multiple human rights violations Beatriz suffered, rights that are protected by the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, and the Inter-American Convention on Violence Against Women.

Feminist organizations assert that Beatriz’s story reflects the consequences of the absolute criminalization of abortion and the institutional violence that is exercised against Salvadoran girls, adolescents, and adult women. According to data gathered by the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, between 2000 and 2011, a total of 129 women in El Salvador have been charged with abortion or aggravated homicide, with sentences ranging between two and 40 years in prison.

Currently there are at least 30 women serving prison such sentences, the majority having suffered the loss of their pregnancies for various obstetric complications.

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

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Abortion Care Abortion Rights Beatriz El Salvador Reproductive Rights Women's Rights