SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador's Supreme Court heard opening arguments Wednesday in a landmark abortion case in which a woman suffering from kidney failure and lupus has not been allowed to terminate a pregnancy in which the fetus is given no chance of surviving.
The Central American country's laws prohibit all abortions, even when a woman's health is at risk. At present, the woman and any doctor who terminated her 23-week pregnancy would face arrest and criminal charges.
Supporters gathered outside the court building where the case of the 22-year-old woman, who for privacy reasons has been identified only as "Beatriz," is being heard. Court spokesman Jaime Marinero said the five-justice panel had begun hearing arguments but it was not known when it would issue a ruling.
Beatriz is described as in fragile health. "She is pretty bad," said her mother, Delmy.
Her daughter suffers from lupus, a chronic immune disorder, and kidney failure, and medical experts say the pregnancy is a threat to her health.
Ultrasound images, meanwhile, indicate the fetus is developing with only a brain stem, a condition known as anencephaly. Most babies born with anencephaly live only a few days.
The government's Health Ministry has said it supports Beatriz's request for an abortion on health grounds. But the government's Legal Medicine Institute contends her illnesses are under control and says the pregnancy should be allowed to continue.
A medical committee at the maternity hospital where Beatriz has been treated said the baby wouldn't survive and recommended terminating the pregnancy, saying the woman's health "will certainly get worse as the pregnancy advances."
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes to stand up for the woman's rights.
"The president should take immediate measures so that Beatriz can terminate a pregnancy that is putting her life at serious risk," the group's Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in the statement.
El Salvador's attorney general for human rights, Oscar Luna, said that "in reality, what should prevail above all are human rights — in this case, the right to life."
"We support protecting the rights of the mother, and this does not imply opening the door to on-demand abortion," Luna said.
The Yes to Life Foundation, a Salvadoran group that opposes abortion, has said the woman should wait to see if there were any medical procedures available to induce an early delivery.
Regina de Cardenal, the head of the foundation, said the case is being used to press for legalized abortion in El Salvador.