The case, from 2013, is that of a homeless young woman with lupus, whose life was in danger and the fetus had anencephaly. The Salvadoran State forced her to carry on with the pregnancy. Her family seeks justice.
For the first time in its history, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights deals this Wednesday and Thursday with the situation of a woman who was prohibited from having an abortion despite the fact that her life was at risk, in the case “Beatriz vs. El Salvador”.
The expectation is highest in Costa Rica, in whose capital the seat of the Court is located, as in El Salvador, the State accused of violating the human rights of Beatriz (fictitious name).
This is a woman diagnosed in 2013 with an autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, who was denied an abortion despite the risk she ran since the fetus presented anencephaly, the absence of brain development during pregnancy.
The abortion case of the woman known as “Beatriz” is a historic instance for the ICH. Photo: REUTERS
In January 2022, the Inter-American Court began to deal with the case of Beatriz, who died in 2017 in a traffic accident, against El Salvador, where abortion is prohibited under prison terms of between two and eight years.
Salvadoran courts usually classify abortion as aggravated homicide, raising the sentence to between 30 and 50 years in prison.
“That the Court has agreed to hear this case strongly indicates (…) that the denial of any health service, including those that are controversial such as abortion, is a violation of human rights,” said María Antonieta Alcalde, from the NGO Mexican Ipas, part of the accusation.
In Latin America, abortion is legal in Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay and some states of Mexico. In Chile it is illegal with the exception of risk to the health of the mother, rape or malformations in the fetus.
In El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic it is absolutely prohibited.
In front of the headquarters of the Court, activists who reject the legalization of abortion have also gathered. Photo: REUTERS
Testimonies from Beatriz’s relatives, two doctors who treated her and two experts who conducted the investigation will be heard at the hearing. Demonstrations of women are expected outside the courthouse in San José, as well as in San Salvador.
It is the last step before the inter-American court issues its sentence, which could take six months.
Beatriz, originally from the town of La Noria Tierra Blanca, some 100 km southeast of San Salvador, was 20 years old when her second pregnancy was confirmed in February 2013, already diagnosed with lupus and after a risky first birth.
A month later, a congenital malformation in the fetus incompatible with life was diagnosed, with a “probability that she would die” if the pregnancy was extended.
Gisela de León, legal director of the Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil), explained to AFP that Beatriz “her rights to life and personal integrity were violated.”
She was forced to continue with the pregnancy for 81 days, knowing that the fetus was not viable, until she underwent a cesarean section. The baby died five hours later.
The case of “Beatriz” could mean a turning point for the debate on abortion in Latin America. Photo: REUTERS
“We are alleging that the suffering he was subjected to knowing that his right to life was at risk is a form of torture,” De León said.
They also consider that their rights to private and family life were violated by remaining hospitalized for almost all of the 81 days.
The State did not allow her to perform the abortion from the beginning. He appealed to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador and it determined that “there is no room” for the interruption of the pregnancy.
De León explained that this legal action against him “violated his right to access justice and judicial guarantees.”
Beatriz’s death as a result of an accident has not stopped her family from seeking justice for her case.
Her brother Humberto told AFP that the objective of this process is that no “other woman goes through what she went through.” A determination that she, she assures, Beatriz took when she was still alive.
“He wanted justice that in El Salvador he could not have and was denied to him,” insisted Humberto, 30.
The situation in which his family lived “in a rural area of El Salvador, marginalized, very poor and excluded” is for Humberto a stigma that affects women’s rights.
“Places in El Salvador that are very poor give rise to this type of situation towards women because they do not have access to a system that guarantees their reproductive health,” he said.