Remember Beatriz? Remember Savita? Or rather, remember #RememberSavita?
Media has a funny way of making one story sound like the most important thing in the world, and then dropping that story like a hot potato a week later.
Savita was the woman who died in an Irish hospital after having been denied a life-saving abortion. Since then, Ireland passed its first abortion bill, making the procedure legal in a few limited circumstances, including when there is a threat to the mother’s life. Just last month, the country’s first legal abortion was carried out, saving a woman’s life.
Beatriz lives in El Salvador, and for months was denied a life-saving abortion by her government, which bans the procedure under any circumstances. Eventually, after widespread media coverage, El Salvador granted her a cesarean section (what was essentially a late term abortion), and she lived. Kathy Bougher notes over at RH Reality Check that “Beatriz’s fight to save her own life provided the citizens of El Salvador a real-time view of the actual meaning and costs of a law about which a large share of the population previously had little awareness.”
But what kind of life is she living now?
Three months after the abortion, Beatriz is holding her own for the moment. However, her future, both short-and long-term, remains quite uncertain because of permanent health problems, including aggravated lupus and kidney disease. She is home with her family, most importantly with her son, as she figures out options for medical treatments, employment possibilities, the needs of her son, and her living situation. The torture and humiliation of fighting for a medically indicated abortion, the stress of her illnesses, and the pain of the brief life and inevitable death of the anencephalic baby she had wanted seriously compromised her already fragile health.
Her lupus symptoms are worsening and the condition of her kidneys still has not been determined. Even with medication, she suffers constant pain. The Agrupación is working to get her to get more in-depth, comprehensive medical tests in order to have a clear diagnosis and treatment plan. They have also helped her obtain psychological counseling.
But, these efforts cannot reverse the damage done by to her body and her health by a pregnancy that should have been terminated much earlier.
Beatriz currently lives with family members in an isolated rural area of the country located about a three-hour drive from San Salvador. A section of that journey is over barely passable unpaved roads. The region provides almost no opportunities for employment. She attempts to generate at least a minimal income through a small store she set up on shelves in the front of her house where she sells a few basic goods to her neighbors. Feminist groups helped her with business skills and continue to provide her with a small amount of funding, business advice and moral support. In addition, she devotes much of her attention to her 20-month old son who had a difficult premature birth and then a lengthy separation from his mother. He requires medical attention to address developmental delays in walking and talking. She would like to study cosmetology, but poor health and the need for frequent medical appointments for herself and her son prevent her from doing so. Appointments are complicated to schedule because of the long distances and the limited bus transportation to the city. She is also considering moving to another rural community where other family members live.
Bougher goes on to describe how Beatriz’s case led to a national discussion about the previously-forbidden topic of abortion and reproductive rights. However, her description of Beatriz’s life also demonstrates for us that abortion is not just about legislating someone’s right to terminate their pregnancy. Even if Beatriz had been allowed to have an abortion in her country, there are clearly a myriad of other barriers to her getting the treatment she needs. And those will need to be addressed as well.
But the first step, is allowing legal abortion in El Salvador under the most basic of circumstances.