Activists urge human rights court to condemn El Salvador's abortion ban

SAN SALVADOR, March 6 (Reuters) - Women's rights activists on Monday called for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to condemn El Salvador in a case brought a decade ago by a woman who died after being forced to carry a pregnancy, although the fetus could not survive.

In February 2013, a young woman known only as Beatriz was diagnosed with her second high-risk pregnancy.

Living with lupus disease, she was told she would likely die if the pregnancy continued and anencephaly - a lethal condition under which parts of the brain and skull do not develop inside the womb - meant the fetus could not survive.

Beatriz appealed to the Supreme Court and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), but the Salvadoran court rejected her request for an abortion and in June she underwent a C-section. The child died hours later. Beatriz' health deteriorated and she died four years later, aged 26.

"We were filled with pain at her passing, and still are when we go to visit her grave," her brother Humberto told a news conference. "Her son asks where his mama is and hugs her tombstone."

One of Latin America's poorest countries, El Salvador at the turn of the century introduced a blanket ban on abortion, reversing earlier attempts to prevent women dying in unsafe, illegal operations.

As of last year, rights group estimated that more than 180 women had been prosecuted under some of the world's harshest abortion laws, which ban abortion even when it is accidental, a result of rape or performed to save a woman's life.

Unclear legal definitions have allowed judges to impose on women sentences of 30 to 50 years for the crime of homicide.

The IACHR is set to rule on the case on March 22-23 in Costa Rica.

"We hope the Salvadoran state will be condemned and this can generate structural change," activist Sara Garcia said. "We do not want more Beatrices to live this story."

Reporting by Wilfredo Pineda and Sarah Morland; Editing by Stephen Coates

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