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El Salvador: Authorize Abortion for Woman at Risk of Dying

Fetus Cannot Survive, but Pregnancy Risks Woman’s Life

(Washington, DC) – President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador should ensure that a woman who faces substantial risk of death if her pregnancy continues can obtain an abortion without criminal penalty, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Funes.

The woman, “Beatriz,” a pseudonym to protect her identity, suffers from serious health problems, according to medical reports from her doctors, and is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus with no chance of surviving infancy. Forcing her to continue the pregnancy violates her fundamental human rights, including the rights to life and to health, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Funes should take immediate steps to allow Beatriz to terminate this pregnancy, which puts her life at serious risk,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Three separate sonograms carried out by the National Maternity Hospital on March 12 and 21, 2013, have shown that “Beatriz,” a 22-year-old mother of one, is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. An infant born with this disorder lacks a cerebrum, a part of the brain, which almost always leads to death within hours or days of birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, Beatriz’s doctors fear she may suffer hemorrhaging, severe pre-eclampsia, a condition that is a leading cause of maternal death, and potential kidney failure due to her pre-existing medical conditions, including Lupus, an auto-immune disease.

On March 22, lawyers for the National Maternity Hospital (Hospital Nacional Especializado de Maternidad) requested permission from the government to perform an abortion in her case, because her doctors believe there was a “strong probability of maternal death” and the fetus was not viable.

El Salvador has a total ban on abortion without exception, putting Beatriz and any doctor performing an abortion at risk of prosecution.

In 2012, Beatriz had a high-risk pregnancy due to pre-existing medical conditions. She underwent a blood transfusion and eventually an emergency Caesarean section due to severe pre-eclampsia aggravated by Lupus, a summary of her medical records shows.

The attorney general has said that El Salvador’s criminal prohibition on abortion will be applied if Beatriz undergoes the procedure. The sentence is up to 50 years in prison for the woman and up to 12 years for the doctor who performs the procedure. The Supreme Court has not yet resolved Beatriz’s request for constitutional protection. With each week that passes, the pregnancy poses more danger to Beatriz. She is more than 22 weeks pregnant.

On April 29, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted protection measures to Beatriz, asking the government of El Salvador to adopt the recommendation of the medical committee from the National Maternity Hospital within 72 hours of the commission’s letter.

But two weeks later, El Salvador’s government has failed to comply. Funes should ensure that his government complies with the measures, Human Rights Watch said.

“Beatriz’s doctors should be allowed to administer life-saving measures without fearing prosecution,” Vivanco said.

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