El Salvador denies woman a life-saving abortion

2013510123016795734_20Update: you can donate to Beatriz’s cause and help her pay her legal and medical fees here.

In terrible news, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied a 22-year old woman the abortion that could save her life on Wednesday.  “Beatriz,” the pseudonym for the 26-week pregnant woman, is 22 years-old, and has lupus and kidney problems that doctors say will get worse and possibly lead to serious illness or death. Her doctors want to abort her fetus, which has anencephaly, a severe birth defect in which parts of the brain and skull are missing, and has almost no chance of surviving after birth. If it does survive, it will survive for days at the most. Surely, given that the mother’s life is at risk and her fetus would die even if carried to term, Beatriz deserves an abortion. But tragically and outrageously, El Salvador is one of the 5 countries that bans abortion in all cases, with no exceptions whatsoever, not even in the case of rape or incest, not even to save the life of the pregnant woman.

El Salvador used to allow abortions in cases of threats to the health or life of the woman, rape, incest or severe fetal abnormality. But in 1998, the government passed a penal code banning all abortions. Not only is abortion illegal in all cases in El Salvador, but the country ruthlessly enforces its draconian laws.  An estimated 628 women have been imprisoned, some for 30 years, for having an abortion since the law was enacted. Twenty-four of these women were indicted for “aggravated murder” after an abortion, or even after a miscarriage or stillbirth. If doctors find evidence of an abortion, they must report their patients to the police. Women seeking medical help after a botched abortion have been handcuffed to their hospital beds. obviously, the number of illegal abortions performed is unknown. But attempts to self-induce abortions are the second highest cause of maternal mortality in the country.

In March, Beatriz’s doctors first asked the legal authorities for a permission to perform a therapeutic abortion and a guarantee that they would not be prosecuted. The attorney general refused to grant any such guarantee, so Beatriz’s lawyer took the case to the Supreme Court. Justifiably, the case garnered international attention. Both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission as well as Amnesty International, Care2, Human Rights Watch and RH Reality Check  called on the president to intervene and the Supreme Court to grant Beatriz an abortion. And feminist organizations in El Salvador, many of whom have been protesting outside the Supreme Court, have been fighting for Beatriz.

And yet, in a decision of four to one, the Supreme Court ruled that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus. Also, the court, said, the threat to Beatriz’s life “is not actual or imminent, but rather eventual.” When Beatriz gave birth to her now 14-month-old son, she almost died: she suffered an exacerbation of her lupus, anemia, pneumonia, and high blood pressure which led to severe pre-eclampsia. Her son was delivered via emergency cesarean section, and was in the hospital with digestive and respiratory problems for more than a month. Her doctors say there is a “strong probability of maternal death” if Beatriz doesn’t terminate her pregnancy. Beatriz wants to live for her child: “I want to live to protect and raise my son.” But she may not be able to.

If Beatriz does, in fact die, the Supreme Court will have her blood on its hands. So will the President, Mauricio Funes, who refused to intervene in the case, saying “We are not going to try to take advantage of this case by exploiting it with clear electoral aims. We have carefully staked out our position: Beatriz is the only one who has the right to make a decision about her life and her child, not all the organizations that want to make use of this case to advance their own agendas.” Except Beatriz doesn’t have that right, as the president well knows. And Funes has done nothing to help her. His accusation of political exploitation is especially infuriating and hypocritical, given that politics clearly influenced his position on abortion. When he was running for president, he backed Mexico’s decriminalization of abortion and suggested that El Salvador revisit its own harsh abortion laws. And his party, the left wing FMLN, supports decriminalizing abortion. But after the Church demanded that all presidential candidates state their position on abortion, he made an about-face and came out against its decriminalization.

El Salvador’s Catholic Church, which has vocally opposed granting Beatriz  an abortion, will also have blood on its hands.  Catholic newspapers claim an offensive, anti-life “feminist lobby” is manipulating Beatriz. As if a woman facing death would have to be manipulated into fighting for her own life. The archbishop of San Salvador attacked Beatriz’s defenders, saying, “I can already see the scalpel killing babies tomorrow because they opened a door.” And, moonlighting as a medical expert, he opined “it is my understanding that the mother of the child is not in an intensive care situation… For me, it is the baby in utero that is in more danger because there is a movement to terminate its life. Only God knows how long this baby that they want to kill will live.” Actually, father, doctors know how long this baby would live.  And it’s a maximum of days.

And anti-choice organizations, like “The Family Net,” which represents 50 anti-choice organizations, organizations like “Yes to Life” (unless you’re already born, in which case, apparently, it’s “No to Saving Life,”) will also have blood on their hands. Yes to Life’s president explained, Beatriz “is stable, and able to speak, what we want is her physical and emotional well-being.” Clearly. And The Family Net’s  Carlos Mayora Escobar said “This patient is fine, her disease is inactive, and she is not in any danger at this moment and that’s why it’s under control; on the other hand, this child will be lost no matter what, this child will die a few minutes after being born.” And speaking of the people who are defending Beatriz’s actual right to life, Mayora said, “these people, why do they want to legalize abortion in this country? For political reasons, for ideological reasons, for reasons unknown. We always try to defend the rights of the women.” They certainly go about it in an interesting way.

Change.org has set up a petition calling on The Pope to intervene. It would, after all, be the pro-life thing to do. Sign here.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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