Reuter's Abortion bans put lives at risk and women in prison

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"El Salvador’s decision to deny an ill woman carrying a malformed foetus an abortion highlights the region’s draconian abortion laws that are putting women’s lives at risk and landing them in jail, a reproductive rights group says.

El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled last week that a 22-year-old woman known as Beatriz, who has lupus and was pregnant with a foetus missing a large part of its brain and skull, could not have an abortion. On Monday, in her 27th week of pregnancy, she underwent a Caesarean section to save her life and avoid breaking the law. She is in stable condition, but the baby did not survive.

\'We have found many Beatriz’s in El Salvador and in other countries, especially Nicaragua and Honduras, over the years,\' said Lilian Sepulveda, head of the global legal programme at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

\'Total bans on abortion violate international human rights laws and the right to life and health. When you get total bans on abortion, you find there are more unsafe abortions. When women want an abortion, they will find ways to have an abortion. Liberalising abortion laws is essential to saving the lives of women,\' she told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

According to WHO, botched abortions are a leading cause of maternal death in all parts of the world, accounting for 12 percent of maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on 2008 figures.


El Salvador’s ban has also led to the wrongful imprisonment of hundreds of women falsely convicted of inducing an abortion, when in fact they suffered miscarriages or complications during pregnancy or birth, rights groups say.

\'Women who have obstetric complications are immediately suspected of carrying out an abortion. They are treated as criminals,\' Sepulveda said.

In 2010, the case of one Salvadoran, known as Manuela, shows how women end up paying with their lives because of the country’s absolute abortion ban.

Manuela, who suffered from advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after suffering severe complications giving birth.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which campaigned on her behalf, doctors treated her as if she had attempted an abortion and immediately called the police. She was shackled to her hospital bed and accused of murder.

Manuela did not receive appropriate medical treatment for lymphoma, the rights group says, and died less than a year after being sent to prison, leaving behind two young children. Her case was put before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2012.

It is likely Latin America’s stringent abortion laws will remain in place, at least in the short term, as there is no big push for abortion to be made legal or decrimnalised in the region.

\'It’s status quo at the moment,\' Sepulveda said."

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