Pregnant woman in El Salvador whose life was in danger has been allowed a caesarean section

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 03 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3612
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

El Salvador’s health ministry has found a way round the country’s strict abortion laws by approving a caesarean section for a woman who is 26 weeks pregnant and whose life is at risk.

The 22 year old has lupus and kidney failure, and doctors have warned that the risk of her death will rise as the pregnancy continues.1 The fetus has anencephaly and would almost certainly die soon after birth. The woman, referred to as Beatriz, already has a 13 month old son.

But El Salvador’s laws on abortion are among the strictest in the world—it is not allowed in any circumstances—and judges at the country’s Supreme Court ruled four to one last week against an abortion.

After the Inter-American Court of Human Rights then declared that this was a denial of the woman’s basic human rights, the health ministry announced that a caesarean section was acceptable from 20 weeks on and would be carried out this week. The baby is likely to die within days.

“It is very clear at this time that the pregnancy intervention is not an abortion; it is an induced birth, which is something else,” the health minister, Maria Rodriguez, told a news conference.

She emphasised that protecting the life of the pregnant woman was the “decisive factor.”

The health ministry, a medical committee, and human rights groups had all urged an intervention to save Beatriz’s life, but judges said that her illness was under control and that she could continue with the pregnancy. They did not rule out the prospect of an induction at a later stage if her life was in immediate danger. But this could have required further legal deliberation at a critical time for the mother.

El Salvador, Chile, and Nicaragua are the only countries in Latin America that do not allow an abortion when a woman’s life is at risk. Beatriz and the medical workers involved in her case face long jail sentences if found guilty of breaking the law.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3612


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