Thursday, May 30, 2013

El Salvador's Supreme Court Rejects Appeal for Life-Saving Abortion

After weeks of deliberation, the Salvadoran Supreme Court has ruled against granting an abortion to a woman with a high-risk pregnancy whose fetus has little chance of survival, a case which illustrates the restrictive anti-abortion laws common across the region.

The case of “Beatriz” has received international attention in recent months (see The New York Times, Salon and Al Jazeera English), prompting several UN human rights rapporteurs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to call for the government to authorize her abortion.

Beatriz has been diagnosed with lupus and kidney failure, and ultrasound scans reveal that the fetus is developing without significant portions of the brain, meaning it will not survive infancy. In March, the National Maternity Hospital asked for permission from the government to perform an abortion because of the “high risk of maternal death.”

The trouble is that El Salvador’s laws prohibit abortions, with no exceptions. If Beatriz were to seek an abortion, she could be sentenced with up to 50 years in prison, and the doctor performing the procedure would lose his license and receive up to a 12 year sentence.

Unfortunately, yesterday the Supreme Court ruled against the request. El Faro reports that the decision was 4 to 1, with the majority opinion contending that allowing the abortion would privilege  the rights of the mother over those of her child.

Such arguments are common throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. While abortion has been decriminalized in some countries and territories, it remains the region with the most severe anti-abortion laws in the world. So far just three countries (Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana) permit abortion without restrictions in the region. This contributes to the highest regional rate of unsafe abortions per capita in the world (31 per 1,000 women), according to the World Health Organization.

News Briefs
  • The Venezuelan government is upset with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos after he  met with opposition leader Henrique Capriles yesterday, causing officials in Caracas to warn that the move could damage relations between the two neighboring countries. The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has also withdrawn its ambassador in Bogota. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said on state TV that the meeting "will bring a derailment of the good relations that we have." El Tiempo reports that he also said it could put Venezuela’s participation in peace talks with FARC rebels in jeopardy, though the government has not yet made a decision on the matter.
  • Marco Leon Calarca, a lead negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has publicly rejected the government’s stated November deadline for talks.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Calarca rejected President Santos’ threat to pull out of talks if no agreement is reached in November as politicking.  
  • Former FMLN guerrilla Joaquin Villalobos, now an international conflict resolution consultant, made some interesting comparisons between the peace process in Colombia and the post-civil war experience in El Salvador in a recent Bogota conference. According to him, Colombia runs the risk of experiencing “anarchic (decentralized) violence” after the conflict’s main actors demobilize, a factor which in El Salvador contributed to the rise of street gangs like MS-13.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Brazil as part of the final leg of his Latin American tour this week. In a half-hour speech in Rio, Biden addressed the need for stronger economic ties with Brazil, saying “You can no longer claim ‘We are a developing nation.’ You have developed.” He also confirmed that President Dilma Rousseff had been invited to Washington for an official state visit in October, the only such visit scheduled for this year.
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has sent a bill to Congress which would make it a crime to insult policemen, as well as establish stricter penalties for assaulting officers and damaging police offices or vehicles. The bill has been criticized by prosecutors, who say that it will overburden the court system, the AP reports.  
  • The Miami Herald reports on Biden’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, where he met leaders of the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic to discuss mutual interests. The talks were described by both sides as “frank” and even “brutal.”
  • Although polls show that a majority of Uruguayans (66 percent) oppose marijuana legalization, the ruling Frente Amplio (FA) party in the lower house of Congress is expected to pass a bill in June which would legalize and regulate the cannabis market. From there it will head to the Senate, where the FA majority is expected to pass it as well. Montevideo Portal reports that a high profile civil society-led campaign has emerged to support the measure, funding television and radio ads which may cause public opinion to turn around on the issue somewhat.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, the decade-long commodity boom which has fueled development in Latin America and helped governments lift millions out poverty is “showing signs of fatigue,” largely in response to fading demand in China.

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