Just months after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, another young woman is set to die from anti-choice policies. After weeks of fighting for the abortion that would save her life, a woman going only by the name of Beatriz was denied the procedure by the El Salvadoran Supreme Court on Wednesday of this week. Savita’s death can be written off by some as mistake or a medical tragedy rather than institutional misogyny, but if Beatriz dies, it will be at the hands of El Salvador’s courts.
Beatriz, who has a chronic illness (lupus, complicated by kidney failure), is unable to carry a pregnancy to term without the likelihood of death. Beatriz’s doctors have told her that should she carry the pregnancy full-term, it is likely that she will die while giving birth. Should she give birth successfully, her child would be stillborn or die within a few hours. The fetus Beatriz is carrying is anencephalic, meaning that it has no brain. Beatriz has a husband and a 14-month-old son at home that she may never see again. She is only 22.
Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, no exceptions. Not for rape, not for incest, and not for the life of the mother. Beatriz started her fight to become the exception to the rule over three months ago, when she was only 13 weeks pregnant. After taking the case to El Salvador’s president and Attorney General and being rejected by both, the case was taken to the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court denied her request for a life-saving abortion after weeks of deliberation in a case that required immediacy. That the case took so long to decide was a sign that the Court never intended to grant Beatriz her abortion.
Several groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been heavily involved in Beatriz’s case since the beginning. It is my hope that one of these organizations can arrange for Beatriz to get the life-saving abortion she needs in a country where abortions are safe and legal. Beatriz deserves to live. However, that does not solve the problem. El Salvadoran women just like Beatriz will die until laws are changed to grant women bodily autonomy. Beatriz represents every woman who needs or will ever need an abortion in El Salvador and every other country where religiously based morals are put above women’s lives.
The most disturbing element of this case by far has been the celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision by anti-choice advocates. Anti-choice advocate Julia Regina de Cardenal of the Yes to Life foundation sees this as “an example to the entire world that we defend the right to life of all human beings however small, poor, vulnerable or defenseless.” Once again, the potential for life regardless of quality outweighs existing lives. It is put above women with families, hopes, dreams, and experiences. It is beyond me how this is truly pro-life. True pro-life advocates should care not only about a person already in existence with years of lived experience, but also about the quality of life a fetus like the one Beatriz carries would have. They should care about Beatriz’s family, about her husband and tiny son who may never know his mother because a theocracy decided that her fetus was more important than she was.
Beatriz and Savita Halappanavar have become modern pro-choice icons, but not by choice. They are symbols of oppression, reminders of what theocracy looks like when it is allowed to flourish. They remind us in the United States about what could happen should we let the religious right legislate our bodies. But they deserve more than that, because they aren’t just symbols or icons or tools for us to use in our feminist arguments. They are real people who have lived real lives. Let’s not forget that. It’s easier to disappear Beatriz from her story for the sake of political argument, but in doing so we take out the most important part- her humanity. Beatriz could be any of us. If we lose our rights, this could happen to us or our best friend or our daughter or sister or cousin. Beatriz is every woman in El Salvador and any other country with a ban on abortion who needs to terminate a pregnancy, no matter her reason.