Salvadoran woman's case puts abortion rights up for debate at Inter-American Court

Candles and placards in memory of "Beatriz", whose case could set a precedent before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. REUTERS - MAYELA LOPEZ

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For the first time in its history, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), based in Costa Rica, is examining the right to abortion this week with the case of a young woman prevented from terminating a high-risk pregnancy in El Salvador.


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It is a crucial hearing for abortion rights in Latin America that is being held on Wednesday and Thursday, March 22 and 23 before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). This court, whose authority is recognized by 23 Latin American states, must rule on Beatriz's case – that is her assumed name.

In 2013, when she became pregnant for the second time at the age of 20, after a complicated delivery, the young woman suffered from an autoimmune disease. The fetus turns out to be non-viable due to a severe birth defect and moreover, according to court documents, Beatriz is informed that she may die if she carries the pregnancy to term. The young woman then turned to the courts in order to be allowed to have an abortion but her request was rejected by the Constitutional Court. She goes into labour prematurely and the fetus dies five hours after delivery.

► Read also: Abortion: a fragile and contested right in many parts of the world

El Salvador strictly prohibits abortion. The country's courts often try women who abort guilty of aggravated homicide and impose sentences of up to 50 years in prison.

Beatriz has since died in a car accident. But today, El Salvador is accused of human rights violations and "torture". The Inter-American Court will hear testimony Wednesday and Thursday from relatives of the young woman, as well as doctors who followed her during her pregnancy. The judgement is expected in about six months.

Latin America's "Roe versus Wade"?

Sara Garcia of the Association for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion in El Salvador said the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' decision could have repercussions for abortion rights across the continent. "This case could become something of a Latin American equivalent of what Roe versus Wade was in the United States," she says. For on the one hand, abortion could be recognized as a right by the Court, at least in some cases. It is not possible for countries to continue to totally criminalize abortion! On the other hand, other cases related to the right to abortion must be decided by the Court after the case of "Beatriz". So this decision will have an impact, because the Court's judgments, in addition to being binding, set precedents. They can therefore be taken up by States or serve as a lever for civil society to change things.


In Latin America, abortion is permitted in Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay and some states of Mexico. In other countries, such as Chile, it is allowed in certain circumstances such as rape or risks to the health of the mother or in cases of fetal malformation, while total prohibitions apply in El Salvador but also in Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Rallies are expected in San José, as well as in San Salvador, the capital of the small Central American country.

► Read also: Salvador: a judge drops the charges in an abortion case


And with AFP)

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  • El Salvador
  • Women's rights
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  • Costa Rica
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