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.
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 RH Reality Check. 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.