Case Beatriz could be groundbreaking for South America

Case Beatriz could be groundbreaking for South America

Dhe Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Wednesday began hearing the historic case of a Salvadoran woman who died in 2013 abortion was denied despite doctors having urged her to end her high-risk pregnancy prematurely. The woman known as Beatriz, a domestic worker from a humble background, suffered from the autoimmune disease lupus and other diseases.

In February 2013, doctors diagnosed her pregnancy and discovered a brain malformation (anencephaly) in the fetus during an ultrasound. They pointed out that the fetus would not survive the high-risk pregnancy and that continuing the pregnancy would be a great risk for Beatrice. However, no abortion was performed because in El Salvador the procedure is forbidden under any circumstances, even if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk or the fetus has serious complications.

Scores of women have been sentenced to prison for this in recent years.Beatriz decided to take her case to the judiciary and appealed to the Supreme Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). However, the Salvadoran court rejected her application. In June 2013, the young Salvadoran underwent a caesarean section. Hours later her daughter died.

In 2017, Beatriz died as a result of a motorcycle accident on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Her case, however, went ahead and became a symbol of the struggle against the general ban on abortion in El Salvador and other Latin American countries, where abortion is also not permitted under any circumstances or only in exceptional cases.

Thousands of women die in precarious conditions during abortions

Every year, thousands of women die in the region as a result of abortions that are carried out secretly and mostly under precarious conditions. The public hearing at the seat of the Inter-American Court of Justice for human rights in the Costa Rican capital of San José was accompanied by protests by abortion opponents and advocates. Beatriz’s mother, who attended the hearing in San Jose, said she hoped her daughter’s image would be restored and that what happened to Beatriz would not happen to any other woman.

In fact, the court’s ruling, expected later this year, could set a precedent and have far-reaching implications for how abortion is handled in the region. The case is the first in which the Supreme Court could rule on the norm prohibiting voluntary abortion outright, said Julissa Mantilla, commissioner of the IACHR.

The Beatriz case draws attention to the consequences

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Beatriz’s case highlights the dire consequences of a law banning abortion altogether and represents an opportunity for a step forward in protecting reproductive rights in the region. Beatriz’s case was forwarded by the IACHR to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights just over a year ago. The reasoning was that El Salvador violated Beatrice’s rights to life and health, to protection from inhumane treatment and to privacy and equality, which violated the American Convention on Human Rights. The Human Rights Commission also found that the outright criminalization of abortion exposes women to dangerous and even deadly practices, disproportionately affecting women from poor backgrounds.

Despite the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission, abortion remains illegal in El Salvador under all circumstances. In recent years, a number of women have been charged with manslaughter and sentenced to prison terms of up to 40 years. In some cases, a miscarriage or stillbirth was used as evidence.

Despite recommendations by the United Nations human rights bodies to decriminalize abortion in all cases and to ensure access to safe, legal abortion, at least in certain circumstances, laws in most Latin American countries remain very strict. Abortion is only legal in Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia as well as in some Mexican states. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Chile and Ecuador, have in recent years decriminalized abortion in certain cases, such as rape, or when the life of the pregnant woman or the fetus is in danger.

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