Beatriz is 22.
She is pregnant.
She is fighting for her life.
Beatriz has lupus, an autoimmune disorder that attacks her internal organs and caused severe complications that almost killed her during her first pregnancy. Now she is confined to a hospital bed, away from her infant son, with the danger to her life growing each day the pregnancy continues.
All of Beatriz’s doctors agree that she needs an abortion, that carrying the pregnancy to term will most likely kill her. But Beatriz lives in El Salvador, a country with an absolute ban on abortions, and if her doctors performed the life-saving operation, both she and they could face up to ten years in prison.
Even though the fetus she carries has anencephaly, a birth defect that is incompatible with life, and will almost certainly die within days of being born.
There are no pictures available of Beatriz (Beatriz is not her real name, but a pseudonym). So here is a picture of myself at 22, because I want you to remember what 22 looks like. I want you to remember how impossibly, heartbreakingly young 22 is. And every time I tell you that the Salvadoran government and the Catholic church are deciding whether this 22 year old woman should live or die, I want you to think about this picture and maybe feel like throwing up because what kind of a world do we live in, really?
Beatriz’s case has attracted the attention of international human rights organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, both of which are urging the Salvadoran government to let Beatriz have an immediate abortion. Activists in her home country are rallying and protesting in support of her. But none of this has swayed officials in the government – or in the Catholic church, which is the real power behind El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban and the final arbiter of Beatriz’s life.
Beatriz first requested an abortion in March. Her case was heard two weeks ago by El Salvador’s Supreme Court, who promised a decision within “fifteen business days.” Meanwhile, Beatriz is unable to see her husband or her infant son, who live in a rural village three hours away from the hospital where she has to stay. Meanwhile, Beatriz is in early-stage renal failure from the strain of this pregnancy on her kidneys. Meanwhile, the danger to Beatriz’s life grows with every passing day. Beatriz is dying by inches because a panel of old men who do not know her at all, who are not her doctors, who are not even doctors but freaking political appointees, have been given the power to decide whether she should live or die.
The really sickening thing (as if there is anything in this nightmare scenario that is less than horrible) is that these men, these strangers deciding whether to allow Beatriz’s life to be saved, aren’t really concerned with her life at all. If they were concerned for her life, she would have been granted the abortion already. They are concerned about the Catholic Church. They are concerned about politics. They are weighing whether international outcry and condemnation will hurt their administration more than going against the church, and Beatriz is an afterthought in their equation.
. . .
UPDATE: The Salvadoran court announced this morning in a 4-to-1 vote “that ‘the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those’ of the fetus,” apparently including cases where the fetus is not viable, and is developing without a forebrain or cerebrum.
That’s a pretty strong indication of where women stand in the eyes of the Salvadoran government. That’s an unambiguously clear sign of the rights Salvadoran women are allowed to have to their own bodies, their own lives – none. at. all.
“Once again Salvadorans have given an example to the entire world that we defend the right to life of all human beings however small, poor, vulnerable or defenseless,” said a prominent anti-abortion activist in response to this ruling.
Have you thrown up from the irony yet?
. . .
The Archbishop of San Salvador’s statement on Beatriz was this: “Sure, she has health problems, but she’s not in grave danger of death. Since we need to consider both lives we have to ask, whose life is in greater danger. We think the fetus is in greater danger.”
Dear Archbishop of San Salvador: I would like a word with you. Human to human.
First of all – who are you to be making decisions about her life, or the life of her unborn child? It is not your body, not your life. You are not her doctor, not even husband or brother or friend. You are not someone who should have any say in this at all. How did you become an arbiter of life and death, of her life and her death?
Second of all – the fetus cannot survive. This is not a choice between two lives.
Let me just say that again. This is not a choice between two lives.
And third – how are you qualified to say that she is not in “grave danger of death?”
That is in fact directly contradicted by Beatriz’s doctors (the only people in a position to help her make this decision) when they stated there was a “strong probability of maternal death” and requested a therapeutic abortion exception for her back in March.
. . .
It’s all just so. horrifyingly. senseless.
A child with a birth defect that is incompatible with life is tragic, all on its own. A mother forced to terminate her pregnancy because it endangers her life is tragic and traumatic in its own right.
A government that is willing to watch a young woman die for their political cowardice is beyond tragic. It’s dystopian. It’s cruel and horrifying and bizarre.
. . .
The only thing I can do from here is try to spread Beatriz’s story, and try to make the counterweight of international outcry a larger part of the equation. It’s not enough, not really, but it’s what I’ve got. This is what I’m doing, and what you can too:
There is a petition over at RH Reality Check, asking the Salvadoran government to defy the Catholic church and allow Beatriz’s doctors to save her life. I’ve signed it. I hope you will too.
UPDATE: There is a fundraising page collecting tax-deductible donations for Beatriz’s medical care and legal costs. Consider donating.
The next step is to call the Salvadoran embassy and express your outrage, your anger, your grief for Beatriz. The number is (202) 265-9671. Send them letters, get your friends to send them letters. Their address is 1400 16th St NW #100 Washington, DC 20036.
Go on Twitter, go on Facebook, send emails, get your voice out there in any way you can.