Thursday, May 30, 2013

Salvadoran Top Court Rejects Abortion Request (Updated)

The Supreme Court of El Salvador rejected a seriously ill pregnant woman’s request to abort her deformed fetus.

“This court determines that the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa, and that there is an absolute bar to authorizing an abortion as contrary to the constitutional protection accorded to human persons 'from the moment of conception,’” according to the court’s 4-1 decision yesterday.

The lone dissenting magistrate claimed that he was not in favor of abortions but did want to ensure that the pregnant woman would receive all medical treatment “without having to recur to legal authorization to protect the life of the mother and the human being she is carrying in her womb.”

The infirm woman, identified as “Beatriz,” has been diagnosed with lupus and kidney disease while her fetus is anencephalic and missing a large part of its brain and skull.  Doctors have warned that “Beatriz” could die trying to give birth to her child, who may not survive beyond a few hours after being born.

(Update: Salvadoran authorities on Thursday permitted doctors to perform an emergency C-section on "Beatriz" next week.  The procedure would be risky, however, and there is no guarantee that she or her fetus would survive).

"We cannot appeal the case because this was the last step, the Supreme Court," said Victor Hugo Mata, Beatriz's lawyer, who also noted that the judges “are saying Beatriz is not in danger and she must pursue the natural way of delivery and we must see what happens.”

As we mentioned earlier this month, President Mauricio Funes said that “Beatriz” has the “right to decide” whether to abort “and not the organizations trying to take advantage of her situation.”

The Salvadoran health ministry, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and women’s rights groups have advocated in favor of providing “Beatriz” with an emergency abortion.  On the other hand, conservative groups like the Salvadoran Catholic Church have argued that the “case should not be used to legislate against human life, especially against the unborn.”

(Update: On Thursday an IACHR spokeswoman urged El Salvador to allow "Beatriz" to undergo an abortion in order to save her life).

Most Latin American countries have partial prohibitions against abortion while El Salvador is one of the few states in the region to bar the practice under all circumstances.  At least 628 Salvadoran women have been convicted for undergoing abortions (and in some cases, first-degree murder) since abortion was completely banned in 1998.  Meanwhile, local human rights groups believe that most of the sixty pregnant Salvadoran women who died last year could have survived hadthey had been allowed to undergo therapeutic abortions.

A 2012 report from the Guttmacher Institute concluded that a high number of abortions in Latin America are “unsafe” despite the limits on the practice in the region:
Half of all abortions (49% - up from 44% in 1995) are now unsafe. They are carried out by somebody unqualified in unsuitable premises and can end in infection or hemorrhage and death. Almost all abortions (97%) in Africa and Latin America (95%) are unsafe and 40% of those in Asia.
Banning abortion does not reduce the numbers of women who attempt it, say the authors of the report. The abortion rate is higher in regions where it is illegal and therefore usually unsafe - at 29 per 1000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1000 in Latin America, where most countries forbid it. That compares with 12 per 1000 in Western Europe and 19 in North America…
Cultural and religious opposition to abortion prevents the issues being properly discussed, let alone tackled, said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet medical journal which published the report online. Yet the complications of abortion are responsible for 13% of maternal deaths and reducing those deaths is now a major global focus.
In recent years several Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay have somewhat relaxed their laws against abortion though it continues to be a very sensitive topic throughout the region.  A pregnant Dominican teen and her fetus died last year after doctors delayed her chemotherapy citing the country’s total ban on abortion.

Video Source– YouTube via elsalvadorpuntocom

Online Sources – BBC News; CBS News; The Guardian; The Latin Americanist; CNN; GlobalPost, NBC News

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