News Abortion

In El Salvador, a Country Awaits the Supreme Court Decision on Beatriz’s Life

Kathy Bougher

As people take to the streets in support of Beatriz, pressure is mounting on the Supreme Court of El Salvador to finally make a decision granting Beatriz a life-saving abortion. Meanwhile, Beatriz's mother pleads for her daughter's life.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

Petition the El Salvadoran President and Supreme Court for Beatriz’s life here.

On Wednesday, May 15 the Supreme Court of El Salvador will hear testimony from Beatriz, the 22-year-old woman who has petitioned the court to allow her to have a life-saving abortion, a procedure prohibited under all circumstances in El Salvador and punishable by lengthy prison terms. She is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus; it is missing most of its brain and will not survive outside the womb. In addition, Beatriz, the mother of a toddler, suffers from lupus, hypertension, and renal insufficiency. Her doctors at the Maternity Hospital, where she has been for almost a month, advised her that an abortion was necessary to save her life.

“I want to live,” has been Beatriz’s consistent response to her doctors as well as to those who oppose her request.

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The court has summoned Beatriz, her lawyers, and her doctors to testify, according to Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapeutico, Etico and Eugenico (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion) in a phone call with Rewire. The state prosecutor and the Institute for Legal Medicine will also provide testimony. Both oppose her petition for an abortion. Sí a la Vida, a right-to-life group, requested permission to participate, but was denied. Herrera reports that her group learned recently that the director of the Institute for Legal Medicine is married to a member of the board of directors of Sí a la Vida. Although the Supreme Court has the demonstrated capacity to respond to petitions from Salvadoran citizens on other matters within as little as 24 hours, it has stalled for weeks in this matter. At this point it is unknown whether the court will issue a final decision on May 15.

Beatriz’s mother, Delmy, spoke Tuesday at a press conference organized by Herrera and the Citizen Group, saying, “It is now that my daughter needs support and help, not when her health gets even worse. … My daughter wants to live. I don’t want my daughter to die. … Her life is in your hands.” She has written a letter to the court that will be presented on Wednesday.

Beatriz’s petition has ignited controversy and debate on many fronts within El Salvador and around the world. Amnesty International, the United Nations, governments of several countries, and the Interamerican Human Rights Commission strongly support Beatriz. The Catholic Church and so-called right-to-life groups oppose her request.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes spoke publicly on the issue for the first time on Monday when, as Herrera explained in her phone call to this writer, feminists confronted him as he inaugurated a new bridge in the town of Suchitoto with banners asking “Mauricio Funes, if Beatriz were your daughter, what would you do?” Funes, the first president from the leftist FMLN party, finally said, “Beatriz has the right to make decisions about her life.” On behalf of the government, he entrusted the case to Dr. María Isabel Rodriguez, minister of health, who has supported Beatriz’s position from the beginning.

At the end of last week the minister reiterated her position that a therapeutic abortion was the “viable, just solution, without a doubt.” The Institute of Legal Medicine conducted its own studies and declared that Beatriz was not in imminent danger and could continue her pregnancy. The Minister called those comments, “uneducated and vulgar.”

Rodriguez reiterated that Beatriz’s life is in danger. She also discredited the report from the Institute for Legal Medicine that was presented to the court: “It is not true that she is not in danger. The lupus that this young woman has is not curable and can’t be changed overnight. We know this disease is systemic, which means that it attacks all the organs, and we can’t know at what moment we’re going to have complications with her.”

As Herrera explained, in a country where until recently even abortion rights supporters were cautious about using the word abortion out loud, student groups at the University of El Salvador have petitioned the school administration to suspend classes tomorrow so that they can attend the massive demonstration planned in support of Beatriz outside the Supreme Court building. Youth groups have participated in the frequent rallies supporting Beatriz.

The Citizen Group and other feminist organizations have maintained a constant presence with rallies, press conferences, and news releases. On Sunday they demonstrated in front of the cathedral with a banner that read “Letting Beatriz Die Offends God.” Sí a la Vida has also been active in Catholic churches, voicing its opposition to Beatriz’s petition and claiming that feminists are using Beatriz to further their agenda. At the same time, Funes states that the government is taking care not to exploit the case for political ends.

Radio de Todas, a feminist radio station in El Salvador, will broadcast the proceedings on Wednesday morning online in Spanish beginning at 8:30 a.m. Central Standard Time.

News Abortion

Salvadoran Supreme Court Denies Beatriz Her Right to Life

Jodi Jacobson

In a stunning decision made worse by the length of time it took to be handed down, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied a young woman "permission" on Wednesday for an abortion needed to save her life.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

Petition His Holiness Pope Francis for Beatriz’s life here.

In a stunning decision made worse by the length of time it took to be handed down, the Supreme Court of El Salvador gave a young woman a death sentence on Wednesday by denying “permission” for an abortion needed to save her life.

Beatriz (a pseudonym) is now 24 weeks into an extremely high-risk pregnancy, complicated by a severe form of lupus, an autoimmune disease, hypertension, and renal (kidney) failure. Moreover, her pregnancy is not viable. The fetus she is carrying is anencephalic—it does not and will never have a fully formed brain—and can not survive more than a few hours after childbirth, if it survives at all. More than ten weeks ago, in the first trimester of pregnancy, Beatriz’s doctors determined she herself could not survive this pregnancy and strongly recommended to authorities that she be allowed to have an abortion to save her life. The minister of health concurred. According to the New York Times:

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In a letter addressed to the Supreme Court last month, Health Minister María Isabel Rodríguez described Beatriz’s situation as “grave maternal illness with a high probability of deterioration or maternal death.” Given the fatal prognosis of the fetus, “it is necessary to undertake a medical-legal approach urgently,” Ms. Rodríguez wrote.

This was no routine medical recommendation: Abortion is banned in El Salvador without exception, and both physicians providing and women receiving abortions can be imprisoned for many years. It is thus not often that physicians, much less the minister of health, are willing to put themselves at risk even when a woman’s life is in danger. And in part as a result of these realities, maternal mortality in El Salvador remains very high.

Beatriz could have had an abortion before the end of her first trimester, and we likely would never have heard of her. But the country’s attorney general asserted he would indeed prosecute the case if the doctors performed an abortion, and so a cruel and confusing international circus began.

First, advocates both domestically and internationally put pressure on President Mauricio Funes who failed to act out of fear of retribution from the Catholic Church and the far right in El Salvador. Many of the advocates working on Beatriz’s case postulated that Funes would simply wait things out until she died as a result of kidney failure or the stress on her body of labor and delivery. Then both the government and the Church could simply claim she had died of “natural causes.”

Next, advocates took the case to international bodies, which quickly called on the government of El Salvador to provide Beatriz with the health care she needs. Both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) weighed in; the Office of the High Commissioner called the situation “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” The IACHR gave the government 72 hours to comply with its findings. But the President again did nothing. Meanwhile, Catholic bishops in the country joined by members of the political right started to ratchet up the opposition to providing Beatriz with life-saving health care, further underscoring how little her life means to them.

Finally, the case went to the Supreme Court where Beatriz herself pleaded for her own life, telling the court she wanted to live and raise her son. In a response that was as shocking then as today’s final decision is now, the Court told her they’d get back to her within 15 days, completely dismissing the agony of pain and uncertainty each day of waiting means for this woman. Meanwhile, every day that has passed has taken an increasing toll on her body and health, multiplied the costs of her medical care, increased the risk of death from a c-section or labor, and made less and less likely the prospect that she will survive. Speaking by phone to Rewire last week, Beatriz’s lawyer Victor Hugo Mata asserted that “if anything happens to Beatriz, the judges of the Supreme Court will in some way be responsible.”

Today, as reported by the New York Times, the court ruled 4-to-1 against saving Beatriz’s life, citing the country’s legal “absolute impediment to authorize the practice of abortion.” The court ruled that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus.

“The refusal of the Salvadoran Supreme Court to allow Beatriz to obtain a medical procedure that could save her life is an appalling and disgraceful violation of her fundamental human rights,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

El Salvador’s ban has not only resulted in the denial of medically-necessary abortions for women like Beatriz who desperately need them, but also in the imprisonment of far too many women who have suffered miscarriages or obstetric complications. Salvadoran women have been paying an unacceptably high price for El Salvador’s abortion ban. Women should never lose their fundamental rights, or be subject to such cruel and inhuman treatment, simply because they have become pregnant.

Anti-choice groups praised the decision with misogynistic glee. In a statement as grotesque as it is chilling, Julia Regina de Cardenal, director of the foundation Yes to Life, stated: “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.”

In other words, a woman has no rights. She is not counted among those “human beings” noted by de Cardenal. Even when “the fetus” has no chance to live.

News Abortion

BREAKING: 45,000 Worldwide Call on El Salvador to Save Beatriz

Jodi Jacobson

More than 45,000 people in the United States and internationally are demanding that Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador, immediately authorize doctors to perform an abortion to save the life of Beatriz, a 22-year old woman and mother of a toddler.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

Petition the El Salvadoran President and Supreme Court for Beatriz’s life here.

More than 45,000 people in the United States and internationally have joined UN human rights bodies, and health and human rights groups in Latin America and worldwide in demanding that Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador, immediately authorize doctors in the country to perform an abortion to save the life of Beatriz, a 22-year old woman and mother of a toddler.

Both the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights have called on the government of El Salvador to save Beatriz’s life. The UN experts on the right to health; torture; and violence and discrimination against women, Anand Grover, Juan E. Méndez, Rashida Manjoo and Kamala Chandrakirana, have called on the government to act without further delay, stating: “We urge the Government of El Salvador to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and full enjoyment of the right to life, and to the highest attainable standard of health for Beatriz, in accordance with international human rights law.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued protection measures this Monday calling on the government to provide Beatriz with the necessary medical treatment within 72 hours, given the urgency of her case – yet that deadline passed on Thursday, May 2nd, and the government has still not taken action.

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Beatriz has lupus, aggravated by lupus nephritis (a kidney malfunction,) and her kidney function is being steadily destroyed. She also is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus (a fetus without a brain) that has no chance of survival after birth. Her pregnancy is literally killing her.

This diagnosis of Beatriz’s condition was issued by the authorities of the Specialized National Maternity Hospital in San Salvador in March, and reiterated by the National Bioethics Commission of El Salvador (CNBES) through a statement last Tuesday. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that her fetus is anencephalic and with no extra-uterine viability.

“This situation of uncertainty has increased the suffering of Beatriz as she is aware of the health conditions of the foetus and the risk of death she faces, and is forced to go through a cruel, inhumane and degrading situation,” the independent experts stressed.

The government of El Salvador is one of the few countries in the world that does not allow for abortion under any circumstance; as a result, Beatriz is being denied life-saving medical care.

Beatriz is from a poor rural area of El Salvador and lives in poverty. Just over a year ago she delivered her first child after a high-risk pregnancy during which she suffered from anemia and preeclampsia. She had a cesarean section and her son was born prematurely and remained in intensive care for 38 days.

Nonetheless, the Prosecutor’s Office has warned that if an abortion is performed they will apply the existing legislation in El Salvador that penalizes all abortions as homicides, and for this reason the medical personnel at the Hospital do not dare perform the abortion.
In the face of Beatriz’s medical situation, the Maternity Hospital (“Hospital de Maternidad”) has determined that “it is of vital importance that she gets the medical procedure she needs because otherwise there is a high probability of maternal mortality.”

Funes must now act to clear the way for this procedure immediately.

For Women’s Link, it is fundamental that therapeutic abortions be allowed as a minimum to protect the human rights of girls and women around the world, so that women and girls do not die or risk their life or health because they are denied an abortion. “If Beatriz were a woman with means, this would not be happening. The prohibition on abortion makes poor women have to choose between dying and turning into “criminals” and that is completely contrary to justice and human rights,” says Monica Roa, Programs Director for Women’s Link.

Petition signatures were and continue to be collected by Amnesty International, Care2, and Rewire.

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