InterAmerican Court hears abortion case from El Salvador

Ten years ago doctors in El Salvador sought court permission for a young woman named Beatriz to have a therapeutic abortion, one to preserve her life and health.  Doctors believed Beatriz life was in danger if she carried her non-viable fetus to term, but Salvadoran courts up to the Supreme Judicial Court, declined to vary from the absolute ban on abortion in Salvadoran law. 

El Salvador has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. El Salvador outlaws abortion for any reason. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. Moreover, El Salvador arrests and imprisons women who have abortions, sometime charging them with murder and sending them to prison for thirty years.

Noor Mahtani, writing in El Pais, describes Beatriz' case:

Beatriz was just 21 years old, with a nine-month-old son and many financial difficulties, when she was diagnosed with lupus. A year later, in March 2013, she found out she was pregnant for the second time in the emergency room of a Salvadoran hospital. When the first ultrasounds were done, up to 15 doctors recommended an abortion as the fetus was growing without a skull or brain and the pregnancy would further weaken her delicate health. If she reached labor, she would not survive. But in El Salvador — one of the five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is banned under any circumstances — it was very difficult for Beatriz to terminate the pregnancy that was jeopardizing her life. Despite the warnings, everyone turned their backs on her: the state, health workers and the justice system. By the time the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) intervened, it was too late.... 

The IACHR forced the state to allow her to have an abortion. Beatriz managed to terminate her pregnancy 81 days later, but her body had succumbed to the disease, which, according to the doctors, had been aggravated by the pregnancy. On October 8, 2017, Beatriz died after a minor traffic accident due to her extremely weak physical condition.

The case has now returned to the IACHR as Beatriz' family urges the court to rule that El Salvador violated the pregnant young woman's human rights and to find that El Salvador's absolute abortion ban violates international human rights conventions to which the country is a party.

Although Beatriz was supported by women's groups and lawyers at the time of her ill-fated pregnancy, many other women are not.  There are multiple documented cases in El Salvador of women dying along with their fetuses because doctors were afraid under Salvadoran law to provide a therapeutic abortion.   Some of these cases are described in this article from 2017 in El Faro: The Other Beatrices.

The first day of the hearing was Wednesday in Costa Rica and continues on Thursday.   You can watch the hearing here.  The panel heard from the mother of Beatriz as well as doctors and other experts about the human rights implication of El Salvador's abortion ban.   Outside of the hearing location and on social media, feminists as well as anti-abortion groups demonstrated.

But back in El Salvador, there was defiance on social media today from the ruling Nuevas Ideas party of Nayib Bukele.

May it be totally clear.
While Nuevas Ideas is the majority in the Legislative Assembly, there does not exist even the most minimal possibility that abortion will be legalized in El Salvador.   We will defend life above every thing.


In El Salvador, abortion is not legal and is not going to be.   The constitution is clear, here life is defended, we don't answer to the lobby of any international organization or institution.