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Ill woman at center of abortion debate in El Salvador

From Merlin Delcid, for CNN
May 26, 2013 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
A woman participates in a march on the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion, on September 28, 2012 in San Salvador
A woman participates in a march on the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion, on September 28, 2012 in San Salvador
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A woman known as Beatriz is pregnant and suffering from illnesses
  • She wants an abortion to help save her life
  • But abortions are illegal in El Salvador in all circumstances
  • The Supreme Court is debating the case

San Salvador, El Salvador (CNN) -- A 22-year-old woman in El Salvador, pregnant and suffering from illnesses, has become a flashpoint in the country's debate on abortion.

The life of the woman, known only as "Beatriz," is in danger if the pregnancy goes full term, but abortion is illegal in El Salvador with no exceptions, women's rights groups say.

Anti-abortion groups counter that Beatriz is being used by abortion-rights advocates as an opening to push for changes to abortion laws.

Beatriz's case is not the first time that risk to a mother's life has created an abortion controversy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, a young woman in the Dominican Republic was denied chemotherapy to treat her leukemia for weeks because of the risk it posed to her unborn child. She eventually began receiving treatment, but both she and her fetus died.

In Beatriz's case, she is suffering from lupus and kidney problems, and her unborn child developed without parts of its brain or skull. She asked for an abortion so that doctors could focus on saving her life, but doctors are hesitant to carry out the procedure without assurances that they won't be prosecuted.

The country's Supreme Court has taken up the case, but it has deliberated for weeks without a ruling, raising the ire of the groups that support Beatriz.

"We are outraged at their abdication of their role to protect and defend Beatriz's life and health," said Esther Major, Central America researcher for Amnesty International. "There is no justice in this delay, and definitely no humanity."

Beatriz is now 24 weeks pregnant.

Although she is at the center of a national debate over abortion, Beatriz has declined to give interviews. Her mother, however, has spoken to the press.

"If this baby is born both (mother and child) could die, and they tell me that the baby would survive just six hours if it is born," the mother said.

Beatriz argues that an abortion could save her life, and allow her to care for her other child, who is a year old.

"The fetus will die because it is not healthy, and so we have to decide that we must save Beatriz's life because there is another child who needs her," said Blanca Lopez of the Salvadoran Women's Union.

Opponents of abortion have not been silent on the issue.

"I think that a great debate has been created using Beatriz, using her problem to promote the legalization of abortion," said Regina de Cardenal of the country's Yes to Life Foundation.

Although the doctors who are treating Beatriz recommended an abortion, others in the medical field disagree.

"Unfortunately, lupus is an incurable disease, and there is no reason to lie to the public," said Miguel Fortin of the Institute of Legal Medicine. "Beatriz will not get better if her pregnancy is terminated. The pregnancy is a temporary condition but the lupus will remain."

The country's health minister has indicated that the government supports an abortion, but that it is up to the Supreme Court to decide.

With each passing week, the debate is more intense as the health of the mother and fetus are weighed.

If the Supreme Court does not act quickly, Beatriz may travel to another country where she can get an abortion, her mother said.

"If here in this country they don't allow her what she has asked for, that would be a possibility," she said.

Ireland's government puts forward draft abortion bill

In U.S.: Gosnell horror fuels fight for abortion laws

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