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Ill woman with malformed fetus stirs El Salvador abortion debate

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 8 May 2013 17:03 GMT
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A view of The Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador in San Salvador August 24, 2011. REUTERS/Luis Galdamez
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A 22 year-old pregnant woman lies in a hospital bed in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, waiting to see if the country’s Supreme Court will allow doctors to perform a potentially life-saving but controversial abortion.

The woman, known as Beatriz, has a young child and is around five months pregnant with a baby that has a fetal malformation. The health ministry says the fetus is missing a large part of its brain and skull, which means the baby is very likely to be stillborn or to die very soon after birth.

Beatriz is also suffering from kidney failure related to lupus disease, which doctors say puts her life at risk while pregnant.

Her plight has revived the abortion debate in a country where abortion is banned under all circumstances - even in cases of rape, incest, when the woman's life is in danger or if the fetus is severely deformed.

The powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church on a society that remains highly conservative are factors behind the draconian abortion laws.

Doctors at the hospital treating Beatriz have requested government permission to perform an abortion, which they say she needs and wants. They have not gone ahead because they fear they could be prosecuted and face imprisonment for up to 12 years.

The health ministry, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations have all called on the government to allow doctors to go ahead with the procedure.

SURVIVAL MAY DEPEND ON COURT

“We hope that the Supreme Court treats this case with the urgency it merits, given that Beatriz’s life and health are at risk,” Esther Major, Amnesty International’s expert on Central America said in a statement last month. “She is suffering cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in being denied the medical intervention she so urgently needs.”

“Beatriz’s situation is desperate and must not wait any longer. Her very chances of survival depend on a decision from the authorities,” Major added.

The Supreme Court has not taken a decision but ordered medical tests to be carried out on Beatriz, which took place last Friday.

But, as reported by local media this week, the results of the tests don’t appear to be good news for her.

The newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported on Wednesday that doctors from several local medical organisations had recommended that Beatriz ‘continue with the pregnancy’.

Bishops and pro-life groups in El Salvador have publicly opposed abortion in the case of Beatriz. They have said the young woman is being used by pro-choice organisations to push ahead with a campaign to partly decriminalize the country’s abortion ban.

Beatriz herself is in limbo as she waits for the Supreme Court to take a decision on which her life may depend.

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