Dr. Theodore Christakis is Professor of International Law at the University Grenoble-Alpes (France). He is Director of the Centre for International Security and European Studies (CESICE).
The Supreme Court and the authorities of El Salvador have the obligation under International Law to authorize a woman to receive a life-saving medical abortion despite the anachronistic total ban on abortion in El Salvador’s law.
“Beatriz” is the pseudonym (intended to protect her identity) of a 22-year-old woman in El Salvador who is now more than five months pregnant. The foetus she is carrying is missing a large part of its brain and skull, which means almost certain death either before or immediately after birth. The mother has been diagnosed with a number of severe illnesses, including lupus and kidney disease, and doctors say she faces a substantial risk of dying if she continues with the pregnancy, but have not yet treated her because they fear that if they end the pregnancy they might be prosecuted under the country’s total ban on abortion. Indeed, under these laws if the woman gets abortion she risks up to 50 years in prison and the doctors who perform the act up to 12! It is now almost two months since the doctors requested permission to provide Beatriz with the treatment she needs, but El Salvador’s Attorney General has said that the country’s Penal Code will be applied if Beatriz gets an abortion. The case has been brought to the country’s Supreme Court, but it has stalled for weeks. A hearing was finally expected to take place yesterday (15 May), but it was unclear whether the court will issue a final decision immediately. With each day that passes, the pregnancy poses more danger.
The case became “internationalized” on April 29, 2013, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted protection measures in order “to protect the life, personal integrity and health of “B”, asking the State of El Salvador to authorize this therapeutic abortion within 72 hours of the Commission’s letter. More than two weeks later though, El Salvador has failed to comply.