Human rights court begins review of high-stakes El Salvador abortion case

SAN JOSE/SAN SALVADOR, March 22 (Reuters) - The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Wednesday began hearing the historic case of a Salvadoran woman who was denied an abortion in 2013 despite doctors' calls to terminate her high-risk pregnancy.

The case of the woman, a domestic worker known only as Beatriz, became a symbol of El Salvador's blanket ban on abortion, which punishes with prison time those who undergo the procedure and those who perform or assist in it.

Experts say the court's ruling at the end of the year could have far-reaching implications on reproductive health across the continent.

"The case will be the first where the high court could rule on the conventionality of the absolute prohibition of a pregnancy's voluntary interruption," said Julissa Mantilla, a commissioner for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights(IACHR).

Doctors diagnosed Beatriz, who suffered from lupus and other ailments, with her second high-risk pregnancy in February 2013, and said the fetus would not survive the pregnancy.

They recommended an abortion but would not perform the procedure given El Salvador's severe prohibition.

Beatriz appealed to the Supreme Court and the IACHR, but the Salvadoran court rejected her request and in June 2013 she underwent a C-section. Her daughter died hours later.

Beatriz died in 2017 from complications from a motorcycle accident that occurred en route to a medical appointment.

The court's public hearing, which is being held in San Jose, Costa Rica until Thursday, was marked by both anti-abortion protests and demonstrations of support for Beatriz.

"What I hope (is) that Beatriz's image is restored and that what happened to Beatriz does not happen again to any other woman," her mother said.

Reporting by Alvaro Murillo in San Jose and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by David Gregorio

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