May 30, 2013 — The Salvadoran Supreme Court on Wednesday denied an appeal by a woman to obtain an abortion, even though doctors said her life is at risk and the fetus is not viable, CBS News reports (Hartogs, CBS News, 5/29).
The lawsuit involves a 22-year-old woman who has lupus -- a chronic immune disorder -- as well as kidney failure. Ultrasound images show the fetus has a fatal condition called anencephaly, in which much of the brain fails to develop.
A medical committee at the maternity hospital where the woman -- known as Beatriz -- is being treated said the fetus would not survive outside of the womb and recommended an abortion because her health "will certainly get worse as the pregnancy advances."
The woman and her doctors could face up to eight years in prison if an abortion is performed (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/29).
Details of Ruling
In a 4-1 ruling, the court cited El Salvador's legal "absolute impediment to authorize the practice of abortion." The "rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those" of the fetus, the court said.
Although the judges acknowledged Beatriz's lupus, they said her disease is under control and that any threat to her life "is not actual or imminent, but rather eventual." They ordered continued monitoring of her condition, adding that doctors "could proceed with interventions" if complications arise that pose an imminent danger.
In the ruling, the court cited doctors who said "an eventual interruption of the pregnancy would not imply, much less have as an objective, the destruction of the fetus."
Víctor Hugo Mata -- Beatriz's lawyer -- called the ruling "misogynistic" because it prioritizes the rights of a fetus with little chance of surviving over those of a sick woman with another child to care for. "There are many more cases like this," he noted, adding, "There has to be an integrated solution."
Abortion-rights groups also voiced disappointment with the decision. "This has hit us like a bucket of cold water," said Marta Maria Blandón, the Central American director for the international abortion-rights group Ipas. "We had the hope that the state would take a more humane decision," she added.
Meanwhile antiabortion-rights organizations praised the ruling. Julia Regina de Cardenal, director of Yes to Life, said, "Once again Salvadorans have given an example to the entire world that we defend the right to life of all human beings however small, poor, vulnerable or defenseless."
According to the New York Times, the next steps in the case are up to the Health Ministry's discretion. The health minister had previously said that Beatriz could travel abroad for an abortion, although she would have to obtain a humanitarian visa to enter the U.S.
Mata said that the trip would pose additional risks to Beatriz's health and that she should be treated in El Salvador (Zabludovsky/Palumbo, New York Times, 5/29). "The only way now is to go to the international courts," he said (CBS News, 5/29).