A 22-year-old woman five months pregnant appeared before El Salvador’s Supreme Court Wednesday to beg for her life. Known by the pseudonym Beatriz, she suffers from lupus and kidney problems. Her doctors say there is “strong probability of maternal death” if she doesn’t terminate her pregnancy. When she was pregnant with her now 14-month-old son, Beatriz almost died: she suffered an exacerbation of her lupus, anaemia, pneumonia, and high blood pressure which led to severe pre-eclampsia. Her son was delivered via emergency cesarean section, and was in the hospital with digestive and respiratory problems for more than a month.
On top of that, her fetus has been diagnosed with anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which parts of the brain and skull are missing. As the Center for Disease Control states, almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth. Although Beatriz’s doctors would like to provide her with an abortion, they fear that they could face prison. In El Salvador, abortion is illegal, with no exceptions for incest, rape, or the health or life of the mother. In fact, since passing its strict abortion law in 1998, El Salvador has jailed 628 women for having abortions, some for 30 years.
Beatriz’s lawyers asked the legal authorities for a permission to perform a therapeutic abortion and a guarantee that they would not be prosecuted. The attorney general refused to grant any such guarantee. So, in mid-April, Beatriz’s lawyers took her case to the Supreme Court. As if Beatriz’s life weren’t at risk, as if that risk weren’t increasing with each passing moment, the Supreme Court waited until last week to ask the Institute of Legal Medicine (ILM) to make a recommendation. On May 7, to the shock and dismay of many, the ILM said Beatriz was not in immediate danger and recommended a “wait and see” approach.