Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Suffering in Silence: The Urgent Need to Address El Salvador's Lack of Reproductive Rights

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Suffering in Silence: The Urgent Need to Address El Salvador's Lack of Reproductive Rights

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

"I don't want to die," Beatriz, a twenty-two-year old pregnant woman, told a reporter by telephone in May of 2013.1 Her government was denying her an abortion, even though delivery risked killing her due to pre-existing lupus and kidney failure. Her fetus was anencephalic2 and had almost no chance of surviving after birth.3 Beatriz lives in El Salvador, where abortion is banned under all circumstances-even when the mother's life is at risk or the fetus is nonviable.4 Her case went all the way to the Salvadoran Supreme Court, which affirmed the denial of an abortion needed to save her life.5 In serious and urgent situations such as Beatriz's, the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) may request a state to adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons.6 Facing the prospect of state-sanctioned death, Beatriz's case prompted the IACHR to grant precautionary measures ordering Salvadoran officials to allow doctors to intervene and pre* serve her life, personal integrity, and health.7 Recognizing the injustice of Beatriz's experience, four nongovernmental organizations filed a petition with the IACHR in December 2013 on behalf of Beatriz against the Salvadoran government.8

The case brought international attention to the suffering that many Salvadoran women face as a result of El Salvador's abortion laws and revealed the stark reality that cases such as Beatriz's are not uncommon.9 The abortion laws of El Salvador, a country steeped in a strong and ubiquitous Catholic tradition, are among the most restrictive in the world,10 with only five other countries implementing this type of categorical ban.11 Prior to 1998, El Salvador allowed abortion in three circumstances: when it was the only means of saving the life of the mother, when it was for victims of rape or statutory rape, and when there is a case of foreseeable, serious fetal deformity.12 However, a newly appointed conservative right-wing archbishop successfully campaigned for reform of the country's abortion laws in 1995.13 The new penal code went into effect in April 1998; it eliminated all exceptions to the abortion ban, made the procedure illegal under all circumstances, and subjected violators to a prison sentence.14

El Salvador has strongly enforced these abortion laws and established "a policing apparatus to prosecute, investigate and denounce any suspicious activities in public hospitals and other places in the country."15 Enforcement is so strict that even women who suffered legitimate miscarriages have been prosecuted for abortion or aggravated homicide and sentenced to prison.16 This hostility has led many women suffering legitimate pregnancy com7. plications to avoid seeking medical care for fear of prosecution, thereby seriously endangering both the expectant mother and fetus.17

Furthermore, no legal alternatives exist for women who seek abortions because their own life is at risk, their fetus is nonviable, or they are a victim of rape or incest. Many such women opt for illegal abortions,18 which are often very dangerous or prohibitively expensive.19 Doctors are forced to report any suspicious circumstances under threat of being prosecuted themselves, which has led to a rapid deterioration of doctor-patient confidentiality.20 Another result of the current conservatism is a lack of access to contraception or adequate education regarding reproductive health.21 It is well established that access to sexual health information and contraception is a powerful tool to combat unwanted pregnancies and abortions.22 Lacking these services, Salvadoran women are stuck in a difficult dilemma in which they are deprived of the necessary information to make educated decisions regarding their reproductive health but then are left with no alternatives when an unwanted pregnancy occurs.23 These circumstances, taken together, reveal a systematic deprivation of women's fundamental human rights, including the rights to life, to physical integrity, to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and to equality. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.