The case of “Beatriz,” the pseudonym of a Salvadoran woman denied a life-saving abortion in country where abortion is illegal without any exception whatsoever has drawn international attention, controversy, disbelief and advocacy, organizing and activism, including this Care2 petition, which collected over 27.000 signatures.
In the latest development, Monday, Beatriz underwent a Caesarian section and had an “induced birth” and not — officially, at least — an abortion. Yet, as Jodi Jacobson writes at RH Reality Check, Beatriz “had a hysterotomy, a form of abortion carried out through c-section.” In other words, thanks to the dominance of conservative sectors like the Catholic Church and anti-choice movements in El Salvador, people are pretending an abortion isn’t an abortion.
Because the 22-year old woman suffers from lupus and kidney problems and almost died during the delivery of her first child, Beatriz’s doctors had wanted to terminate Beatriz’s pregnancy, which they feared would kill her. Also, the fetus had anacephely, a severe and fatal birth defect in which parts of the brain and skull are missing. The longest a baby born with anacephaly can live is days.
Thus Beatriz’s case seemed particularly sympathetic, given that the pregnancy wasn’t viable anyway. But none of this mattered in a country where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, incest or for the health and even life of a mother. And when doctors asked for a guarantee that they wouldn’t be prosecuted if they performed an abortion, they were denied.
Ultimately, the case went to the Supreme Court which, in a decision of 4 to 1, declared “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.”
Finally, in the face of international outcry over the treatment of Beatriz, the Health Ministry, which had supported Beatriz’s right to abort from the beginning, in an act of political jujitsu, declared that Beatriz could “induce birth.” On Thursday, María Isabel Rodríguez said “At this point, the interruption of the pregnancy is no longer an abortion. It is an induced birth.” And Monday, doctors performed a Caesarean section on Beatriz, delivering a 27-week-old fetus. Not surprisingly, the baby died five hours after being born. Rodriguez said, “[Beatriz is] in good hands, being looked after well…I expect things to go well over the next few hours.”
Fingers crossed, Beatriz will survive this ordeal. And while it is a relief that the pregnancy has been terminated, and this is a partial victory for those fighting for Beatriz’s life, it remains an injustice and an outrage. Beatriz was forced to suffer for longer than necessary and was then “allowed” to undergo a c-section, which is far more dangerous than an abortion.
[Beatriz] lost substantial amounts of blood and as yet faces unknown health consequences from lack of an early abortion that complicated her lupus, compromised her kidneys, and racked up unnecessary medical bills. The key difference is that, at death’s door, Beatriz was an international cause célèbre. As a poor, rural woman who may now face lifelong health and medical complications gravely exacerbated by the delay in her treatment, she will almost certainly become a forgotten statistic, a woman who may need ongoing medical care she will almost certainly not be able to afford.
So, why did Beatriz undergo this?
El Salvador’s Catholic Church can be thanked for organizing against Beatriz’s life. Catholic newspapers claimed an offensive, anti-life “feminist lobby” was manipulating Beatriz. Because, clearly, a woman facing death would have to be manipulated into wanting to live. The archbishop of San Salvador, moonlighting as a medical expert, 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, in addition to the Almighty, know how long this baby would live. And it’s a maximum of days.
Anti-choice organizations also deserve credit for nearly killing Beatriz. The president of the ironically named “Yes to Life” organization said Beatriz “is stable, and able to speak, what we want is her physical and emotional well-being.” And Carlos Mayora Escobar of“The Family Net,” which represents 50 anti-choice organizations, 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 have unusual methods for achieving that goal.
And this certainly isn’t a policy victory. The anti-choice movement is gloating over their alleged victory, distorting reality and claiming an abortion is not an abortion.
Claudia Handal, a spokeswoman for Red Familia, rejoiced, “We’re very happy because as we said from the beginning, it wasn’t necessary to perform an abortion, the point was to respect the baby’s life and to give Beatriz the care and the right to health that she deserved.” Women in El Salvador are still being the denied to the right to have an abortion even in order to save their own lives. The anti-choice movement of El Salvador still controls the very lives and deaths of women.
Photo: Night Owl/Wikimedia Commons