Friday, May 31, 2013

El Salvador Will Allow Dying Woman To End Her Pregnancy: ‘What Matters Is To Protect Beatriz’s Life’

Beatriz, the 22-year-old El Salvadoran woman who needs an emergency abortion in order to survive, will now be allowed to end her pregnancy with a Caesarean section. On Thursday, El Salvador’s health minister approved the C-section procedure for the dying woman, whose health has increasingly worsened throughout her pregnancy.

“The medical team at the Maternity Hospital is ready to act immediately at the slightest sign of danger,” Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez said on Thursday. “For me, what matters is to protect Beatriz’s life.”

Over the past three months, Beatriz’s life has hung in the balance as her deeply conservative country has refused to compromise its stringent abortion ban. In El Salvador, having an abortion is illegal under all circumstances and can result in up to 30 years in prison. Even though Beatriz is carrying a nonviable fetus — it will not be able to survive outside the womb for more than a few hours because it’s missing its brain — her government has continued to deny her the life-saving abortion that would prevent her from dying along with her fetus. On Wednesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Court refused to grant Beatriz an exception to the country’s abortion ban, and there didn’t seem to be much hope left for the pregnant woman who has begged for the chance to live for her 14-month-old son.

However, since Beatriz is now 26 weeks along in her pregnancy, her case is no longer subject to El Salvador’s abortion laws. The reproductive rights advocates who have taken up her case say that at this point, the country’s health ministry can decide on the best option to safeguard Beatriz’s health.

That’s exactly what El Salvador’s health minister has decided to do. Essentially, Beatriz will be given a different means to achieve the same ends. Rodriguez will sidestep the abortion controversy by allowing Beatriz to undergo a C-section surgery — which her fetus will likely not survive — instead of undergoing a less-invasive abortion procedure. The Health Department hasn’t yet decided when Beatriz will have her surgery, but she is now “going through all the medical exams” in order to prepare for it.

Independently of Rodriguez’s announcement that Beatriz may have a C-section, the highest human rights courts in the Americas ordered El Salvador on Thursday to provide Beatriz with the life-saving health care she needs. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has never before considered a case on abortion, but it stepped in this week to criticize El Salvador’s Supreme Court for its “cruel and callous” decision to deny Beatriz the right to terminate her doomed pregnancy. The Inter-American Court pointed out that forcing the ailing woman to continue carrying her fetus is “a potential death sentence for Beatriz.” The health minister’s decision ensures that El Salvador will be in compliance with the court’s order.

Fortunately, even in spite of her country’s draconian abortion laws, Beatriz’s life will hopefully be spared. But many women aren’t so lucky. Earlier this year, a woman died after being denied an abortion in an Irish Catholic hospital. Last year, a woman in the Dominican Republic died after she couldn’t get the abortion she needed to receive chemotherapy treatment. And around the world, an estimated 47,000 women die each year because they don’t have the access to safe reproductive health care.

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