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Catholics Denounce Ruling Denying Life-Saving Abortion to “Beatriz” in El Salvador

May 30, 2013

Catholics expressed outrage at last night’s decision by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador denying “Beatriz,” a 22-year-old mother suffering from lupus, authorization to undergo the abortion her doctors say she needs to save her life.

“This will continue to happen until countries make laws that respect women’s autonomy,” said Jacqueline Nolley Echegaray, senior international program associate at Catholics for Choice. “The Supreme Court of Justice ruled against the recommendations of medical experts, public health best practices, international human rights standards and the freedom of conscience of Beatriz herself,” Nolley Echegaray continued. “Beatriz believes that ending this pregnancy is the best choice for herself, for her one-year-old son and for her family. With this ruling, the court has condemned a woman to risk death for the sake of others’ beliefs.”

Abortion is illegal in El Salvador under all circumstances, and women suspected of terminating a pregnancy are routinely charged with aggravated homicide and tried in court. Those convicted have been sentenced to as many as 30 years in prison, and doctors and other medical personnel face criminal charges if suspected of having assisted in performing an abortion.

“This sad and tragic case has achieved something very important,” said Rosa Gutierrez of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir El Salvador. “The general public now knows that abortion is criminalized without exception in El Salvador and that this has a terrible impact on women, especially poor women. We have also witnessed a great mobilization by organizations and concerned people around the world who have become aware of the harsh reality experienced by women like Beatriz because of this cruel Salvadoran law. All of us must continue to work to expose this reality and to make sure that no woman ever has to go through this again. What Beatriz is experiencing is torture. Women’s health should not be at the mercy of any court; it should be treated as what it is: a matter of public health. Above all, it is poor women who suffer and die because of unjust laws such as the one here in El Salvador, although these statistics are hidden from the public because they are so shameful. The fight for women’s lives and health continues.”

The World Health Organization estimates that one million abortions occur clandestinely each year in Central America, a region with some of the most restrictive laws in the world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, an estimated 12 percent of all maternal deaths in 2008 occurred due to unsafe abortion, and about one million women are hospitalized annually for treatment of complications from unsafe abortion. Clandestine abortions performed on women of low socioeconomic status are typically carried out under dangerous and unhygienic conditions, directly resulting in the high maternal mortality and morbidity rates that continue to plague the region. Women, particularly poor women, who suffer complications are faced with a stark choice: seek medical assistance and risk prosecution, or forgo medical help and risk death.