Salvadoran doctors perform C-section in risky pregnancy

SAN SALVADOR - Doctors performed a C-section on a chronically ill Salvadoran woman denied an abortion despite her high-risk pregnancy, in a case that garnered global attention.

The 22-year-old woman was in a stable condition after undergoing a cesarean in the early afternoon, Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez said. The baby, a girl, was born without a brain and lived for only five hours, she said.

Abortions are strictly forbidden in this Central American country, even when the mother's life is at risk. The sentence for violating the ban is 50 years in prison.

The woman, identified only as "Beatriz," a pseudonym, had requested an abortion to terminate the pregnancy because she suffers from lupus, a disease that weakens the immune system.

Doctors had said that the foetus she was carrying had anencephaly, a total or partial absence of the brain and the skull, and would likely die upon birth.

After two weeks of researching the issue El Salvador's Supreme Court rejected her request for an abortion, saying the rights of the mother could not take precedence over those of the unborn child.

However with the approval of the health minister, doctors proceeded to deliver the baby prematurely by C-section after 26 weeks of gestation.

"It is very clear at this time that the pregnancy intervention is not an abortion, it is an induced birth, which is something else," Rodriguez told reporters last week.

The woman delivered at the capital's main maternity hospital.

Sensitive to the international interest in the case, a spokesperson from the office of President Mauricio Funes said that in Beatriz's case, "everything transpired as the specialists had expected."

Claudia Handal, a spokeswoman for the conservative NGOs Family Network, initially told AFP that the baby survived and was under medical care.

According to the health minister, it survived for five hours.

"What we have been told is that Beatriz is well," said Morena Herrera, the head of ACDATEE, an abortion rights group.

Beatriz's case garnered attention around the world, with women's organisations and rights groups outraged at her plight. The woman, who is already the mother of a one-year-old baby, could have been jailed for 50 years had she had an abortion.

Amnesty International called the Salvadoran court's ruling denying an abortion shameful and discriminatory.

"Having put Beatriz through this long process, dragging out for seven weeks a decision that affects a person whose life is in immediate danger, is something cruel, inhumane and degrading," the rights watchdog said.

The Inter-American Human Rights Court in San Jose, Costa Rica, on Thursday had ordered El Salvador to act swiftly to protect the mother's life.

"Given the mother's health condition, this pregnancy is a risk to her life, a fact that merits extreme and urgent measures be taken to safeguard her health," the regional court had warned.