UN experts urge El Salvador to reconsider abortion legislation, citing ruling against ill woman

Credit: OHCHR

4 June 2013 – A group of United Nations independent experts today called on the Government of El Salvador to reconsider its abortion legislation, following a ruling by the Supreme Court which denied the procedure to a seriously ill woman.

“It is high time to reconsider the serious consequences on women’s rights of the abortion legislation and practice in El Salvador, and to afford the legal protection that all women in the country deserve,” said the experts in a news release.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled to deny a woman, known only as “Beatriz” to protect her privacy, the right to undergo an abortion, even though the pregnancy was threatening her life and her baby had been deemed unlikely to survive. Instead, Beatriz underwent a Caesarian section yesterday, but her baby died shortly after birth due to the brain condition that had been identified as fatal.

“This Court ruling exposed the physical and mental health of Beatriz to serious risk, which could eventually threaten her life,” said the UN experts on right to health, torture, and discrimination and violence against women, Anand Grover, Juan E. Méndez, Kamala Chandrakirana and Rashida Manjoo.

However, they welcomed the decision made by high-level public officials, including the Minister of Health, which allowed an alternative procedure to be carried out; and expressed their hope that medical professionals who provided the required treatment will not be sanctioned.

Beatriz, 22, is still in urgent need for medical intervention, and the experts underlined that her condition could lead to irreparable damage to her life and physical and mental integrity.

“The court’s decision is in clear contravention of El Salvador’s human rights obligations, including article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” they warned, “and article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women to which El Salvador is party.”

The experts highlighted that having obliged Beatriz to continue with the pregnancy could amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. “An absolute ban on abortion, when the result is serious risk to the life and health of the woman, constitutes a violation of the State’s obligation to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” they said.


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