SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – A seriously ill Salvadoran woman whose struggle to get a medical abortion drew international attention received permission on Thursday to end the troubled pregnancy with a cesarean section.
El Salvador’s Health Minister on Thursday approved the C-section for the 22-year-old woman suffering from kidney failure and lupus, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that she could not have an abortion despite her lawyers’ appeal that the pregnancy was life-threatening.
Ultrasound images indicate that her fetus is developing with only a brain stem and is given no chance of surviving.
The case of the mother known only as Beatriz drew widespread attention and criticism as she sought to end the pregnancy in a country with some of the strictest abortion laws in Latin America. Salvadoran laws prohibit all abortions, even when a woman’s health is at risk, and the woman and any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face arrest and criminal charges.
“She is in the hands of top-notch doctors,” Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez said Thursday. “The medical team at the Maternity Hospital is ready to act immediately at the slightest sign of danger.”
“For me what matters is to protect Beatriz’s life,” she added.
Because the pregnancy is 26 weeks along, abortion laws are no longer at play, according to women’s groups who have supported her petition. Rather, the health ministry can determine what’s most medically sound for the mother versus the unborn baby.
Just as the government was resolving the case, the Inter-American Court on Humans Rights ruled that El Salvador needs to protect Beatriz’s life and integrity and help her end her pregnancy. The ruling does not impact the resolution of the case because the Salvadoran government had already decided to safeguard her life.
The Health Department hasn’t given a day or time for when Beatriz will deliver the baby by Cesarean section, said Morena Herrera, a member of the Feminist Collective for Local Development, an organization that has been supporting Beatriz.
“She is going through all the medical exams to be ready for surgery,” Herrera said.
The Supreme Court said physical and psychological exams done on the woman by the government-run Institute of Legal Medicine found that her diseases are under control and she could continue the pregnancy. The judges voted 4-to-1 to reject the appeal by the woman’s lawyers, who argued that continuing with the pregnancy put her life at risk.
Amnesty International called the court decision “cruel and callous” and “a potential death sentence for Beatriz.”
Abortion opponents said the case was being used to press for legalized abortion in El Salvador, which has some of the toughest abortion laws in Latin America, along with Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname.