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El Salvador's Supreme Court 'toying' with young mother's life

Source: Wed, 22 May 2013 17:04 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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BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - El Salvador's Supreme Court has once again delayed a decision on whether to allow a pregnant woman a potentially life-saving abortion, her lawyer and campaigners said, despite a global outcry over the case.

The 22-year-old woman, known as Beatriz, is nearly five months pregnant with a baby that has a foetal malformation.

Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs, including the expert on torture and violence against women, have called on state authorities to protect her right to life and have said the uncertainty Beatriz faces over the risk to her life is “cruel and inhumane”.

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted protection measures to Beatriz, asking the government of El Salvador to allow doctors to go ahead with the abortion.   

The country's health ministry says the foetus is missing a large part of its brain and skull, which means the baby is very likely to be stillborn or to die soon after birth. Beatriz, has also been diagnosed with lupus disease and has kidney problems.

Last week El Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes said only Beatriz, who has a son, had the right to decide her fate.

The Supreme Court has been deliberating on the case for the past five weeks and said last week it will decide within 15 working days if doctors could carry out the procedure.

"It could be up to another three weeks before the Supreme Court makes a decision on whether or not Beatriz lives or dies, or is potentially left with severe health problems - which is cruel in the extreme," said Amnesty's Central America researcher Esther Major.

"We're talking about a non-viable pregnancy and the right to life. The courts have let her down. They are toying with her life," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We're expecting common sense and compassion from the state. There is no justice in this delay, and she's suffering inhumane and degrading treatment."

Rights groups see this as a test case in the staunchly Catholic country where pro-choice organisations are campaigingto partly decriminalize the country's abortion ban.

Since 1998, abortion has been illegal in El Salvador under all circumstances - even in cases of rape, incest, when a women's life is in danger or if the foetus is severely deformed.

DESPERATION

Last week, Beatriz left her hospital bed in the capital San Salvador to testify at Supreme Court where judges met to give a ruling on her case. But they failed to make a decision, one of her lawyers said.

"Beatriz testified for about 30 minutes in court. She was emphatic and clear in telling the judges, 'I want to live'. She has a constitutional right to life and a right to health," said lawyer Angelica Rivas.

"It's a tragedy. She is desperate as she nears her 25th week of pregnancy. She trusts her doctors who say she needs to have an abortion," Rivas told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from San Salvador.

She said doctors and two psychologists were keeping a close eye on Beatriz around the clock. 

Doctors at the hospital treating Beatriz requested permission from state authorities to carry out an abortion more than two months ago. But they have not gone ahead with the procedure for fear thatthey and Beatriz could be prosecuted and face imprisonment for up to 12 and 50 years respectively.

Since El Salvador's blanket ban on abortion came into effect in 1998, 628 women have been jailed for having abortions, some for 30 years, according to a local rights group.

Catholic bishops and anti-abortion groups in El Salvador have publicly opposed abortion for Beatriz and say the young woman is being used by pro-choice organisations.

But many people in El Salvador have shown support for Beatriz and vigils have been held outside the hospital where she is staying, her lawyer said.

"I'd say a big part of the population is behind Beatriz. Many people say, 'I'm not in favour of abortion but in the case of Beatriz I am'," Vivas said.

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