December 6, 2021

Benin and El Salvador go in opposite directions on abortion

Parliamentary committee votes / La Prensa Grafica

It is odd to see how countries can differ so radically on the fundamental issue of abortion.

The parliament of the West African country of Benin (population 12 million) voted this week to legalise abortion. It was already permitted under very restricted conditions.

The new law provides that women can have an abortion within the first three months if a pregnancy is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest”.

Previously, women could only have an abortion if the pregnancy “threatened the life of the mother”, was “the result of a rape or incest” or when “the unborn child has a particularly severe affection”.

Minister of Health Benjamin Hounkpatin explained that complications from abortions accounted for 20% of maternal deaths in the country. (No source for this figure was given in an Al-Jazeera article.)

On the other side of the world, a committee of the El Salvador (population 6.5 million) parliament voted against reforming one of the world’s strictest laws on abortion. Elective abortion is banned in all cases, including rape, incest and foetal deformity. The penalty for the mother and for doctors is 2 to 8 years in prison.

The El Salvador constitution recognises “as a human person every human being from the moment of conception”.

Supporters of abortion called the proposed constitutional reforms “La Reforma Beatriz”, after the 2013 case of Beatriz, a pregnant 22-year-old woman whose unborn baby was anencephalic. She requested an abortion, but permission was refused by the Supreme Court. In the event, doctors performed a Caesarean at about 7 months.

El Salvador is under immense international pressure to liberalise its ban on abortion from Western governments, international groups and NGOs.