Beatriz Case Reveals Catholic Hierarchy’s War on Women


See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

For the women of the world’s more privileged nations, it is tempting to view the plight of Beatriz, the gravely ill Salvadoran woman denied a therapeutic abortion of a fetus missing its brain, as something that could not happen to us. But if the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had its way, women who face similar medical challenges in the United States would be forced into the same life-threatening circumstances as the 22-year-old Central American mother.

El Salvador’s draconian abortion ban is Catholic doctrine made law, in a nation where church prelates hold great political power. While the bishops’ political power encounters greater checks in the U.S. system of government, it is nonetheless substantial—never mind that the USCCB’s positions on women’s health and rights do not represent the beliefs of most American Catholics.

Bishops’ Political Power and the War on Women

One need only look at the way in which bishops tried to derail the Affordable Care Act (ACA), holding up the legislation for months through the resistance of several conservative Catholic congressmen, ostensibly because the law would allow women to purchase, with their own money, health-care coverage for abortion (via a convoluted formula designed to satisfy the church fathers—which, of course, it didn’t).

Today the bishops’ jihad against the health-care law rests in the requirement that employer-provided health plans, including those offered by Catholic-affiliated institutions such as universities and hospitals, provide coverage for prescription contraception without a co-pay. Hoping to avoid a conflict with the Catholic bishops, whose doctrine forbids the use of birth control, the administration convinced insurance companies to pay for contraceptive prescriptions in such plans so the Catholic institutions wouldn’t have to, but that did not satisfy church leaders.

The USCCB, working in coalition with members of the Protestant evangelical right, claims the contraception requirement to be an infringement on its religious liberty, since it prevents the bishops from imposing their religious views on the women of many faiths who work in these large institutions, some of which receive federal dollars, whose primary work is not religious in nature. (In many parts of the country, in fact, the only hospital within reach is one affiliated with the Catholic church. In 2009, according to the National Catholic Reporter, Catholic hospitals served one in six U.S. hospital patients.)

As I write, dozens of lawsuits filed by Catholic institutions and agencies against the Obama administration, challenging the ACA contraception policy, are wending their way through the courts—an effort “spearheaded,” according to Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones, by the USCCB. (Many of those institutions are represented by the right-wing Becket Fund, which is led by Catholic conservatives.) Essentially, the church is claiming a right to discriminate against women as a matter of religious liberty, much as Bob Jones University claimed a religious right to discriminate against African Americans, a claim knocked down by the Supreme Court in 1983.

A Cult of Misogyny?

Before you write off Beatriz’s predicament to moral ambiguity on later abortion, it is only fair to consider the whole of the church’s teaching on matters particular to women, exemplified by its proscription on contraception, which finds no standing in the teachings of Jesus or his disciples, or in the consciences of most Catholics, 82 percent of whom reject it, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

Neither does one find admonitions against women preachers in the teachings of Jesus, yet the Vatican holds fast to its ban on women priests, a doctrine that can only be viewed, in the modern age, as misogynistic.

Despite the many good works of those it claims to lead, the Vatican and the institutional church has a troubled, centuries-old history in the realm of temporal power. At its essence, the hierarchy is, more than anything, a cult of power—a cult whose leaders wish to assure that any future members look and think exactly like them. And that’s what accounts for the prelates’ stunning lack of compassion in matters concerning women.

They’d have you believe, of course, that their concern is for the children of the world—a term they apply liberally, to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses.

Speaking to the website ElSalvador.com, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador explained why Beatriz, suffering from renal failure and lupus, should be deprived of a potentially life-saving abortion of fetus that lacks the capacity to live much beyond birth:

“I have understood that the child’s mother is not in an intensive care situation,” the archbishop told reporters Rossy Tejada and Jaime Lopez. “For me, who has more danger in [this] pregnancy is the child; there’s an effort to disrupt his life,” he said.

When asked about the child’s life expectancy, he said, “Only God knows how long will this baby live, [not those] who want to kill him before he is born.”

“It Must Be Hard For You”

In 1987, while covering Pope John Paul II’s second U.S. visit for The Nation and Ms. magazine, I interviewed Cardinal Bernard Law, then archbishop of Boston, on a plane carrying the papal press corps. The pope had, the day before, reiterated his objection (actually, he said it was God’s objection) to ordaining women into the priesthood.

“There are two principles that need to be borne in mind,” Law said. “First, the fundamental equality of all persons; secondly, the specific equality of … feminine humanity … I think this is what the Holy Father meant: that the price of that equality must not come at the expense of what it means to be feminine.”

When I asked him to define that, Law replied, “I don’t know. That’s something that needs to be understood and experienced more deeply.”

At the time, I was still grappling with my Catholic heritage, and I was a bit taken aback when Law asked me what I had felt while reporting on the papal tour.

I told him I felt a lot of different things, but that I was often angry, especially about the pope’s hard line against ordaining women.

“Oh, I know. I understand,” he said. “It must be very hard for you.”

In 2002, Law resigned as archbishop of Boston when the pedophile priest scandal exploded in his archdiocese, after it was revealed that Law and his underlings dealt with complaints of priests abusing children by moving those priests to new parishes, where they could abuse more children. The pope stepped in to save him from accountability by whisking him to Rome, where, until 2011, he served as the head of a major basilica, and continues to serve in the Curia.

The most notorious case was that of Fr. John Geoghan, who appears to have molested at least 87 children before he was defrocked in 1997.

Ultimately, Law’s successor settled hundreds of suits, which named Law as a defendant, to the tune of $85 million, according to the Associated Press.

As it turned out, Law’s way of dealing with troublesome pedophile priests was widespread among U.S. Catholic prelates. Some cases claimed the outright rape of boys by priests. Settlements paid out to abuse survivors by various U.S. dioceses now total some $2.5 billion, according to USA Today, leaving some dioceses bankrupt, or nearly so.

So forgive me for my doubts that the bishops’ concern in matters of abortion is about the fetuses they claim to be children. Where the well-being of children is concerned, the church fathers have shown a predilection for protecting their own careers at children’s expense.

No, this is about women—and the hierarchy’s contempt for women. It’s a contempt they believe they should have the liberty to confer on all women, everywhere, through force of law.

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  • canaduck

    Has the fetus actually been established as male? I ask because I note that the Archbishop repeatedly refers to the fetus with male pronouns. I wonder whether that is because “male” is our cultural default (in itself a form of misogyny but less related to this particular instance) or if it’s because he’s automatically placing the fetus above Beatriz. Or maybe it’s just the translation from Spanish?

    • L-dan

      I read it reported elsewhere as female. However, Spanish does have gendered nouns and fetus appears to be a masculine one (per Google translate, so take that with a grain of salt). So it is likely a combination of male being the default pronoun set and the masculine noun.

      Regardless, it’s long been obvious that the whole “the fetus is as important as the incubator” thing they profess is a fiction. When, over and over again, they favor unviable fetuses at the expense of the health or life of the pregnant person, they can’t claim to hold them as equally valued.

  • HeilMary1

    The ugly truth is that the RCC opposes all effective family planning so its esteemed pedophile priests will have unlimited neglected victims to prey on.

  • Lupita

    STOP LYING! GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT! Beatriz never needed an abortion! She had her baby yesterday by c-section and is doing fine! Abortion is a business that takes advantage of women’s problems, kills babies and harms women! Tell the truth for once! This case has shown the world that there is no need to kill the baby to save the mother. The mother was never gravely ill. The doctors did what need to be done for the mother and the baby, The baby girl was born in one piece and died of natural causes, not murdered. The truth has been uncovered and you continue to repeat the same lies.

    • goatini

      Forced Cesarean Section
      In the most notorious incident, in 1987 administrators of George Washington University Hospital went to court to force Angela Carder, a pregnant woman ill with cancer, to undergo a cesarean section. When both she and her critically premature baby died shortly after the surgery, the c-section was listed as a contributing cause of her death.

    • http://twitter.com/JenGStarr Jennifer Starr

      You’re the one who’s lying, Lupita–and you had no problem with forcing this woman to risk her health and even her life for a non-viable fetus without a brain. And that makes you a truly sick individual, in my book.

  • Lupita

    STOP LYING! GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT! Beatriz never needed an abortion! She had her baby yesterday by c-section and is doing fine! Abortion is a business that takes advantage of women’s problems, kills babies and harms women! Tell the truth for once! This case has shown the world that there is no need to kill the baby to save the mother. The mother was never gravely ill. The doctors did what need to be done for the mother and the baby, The baby girl was born in one piece and died of natural causes, not murdered. The truth has been uncovered and you continue to repeat the same lies.

    • goatini

      Stop lying, “Lupita”, you’re a disgusting forced-birth apologist, who’d be rejoicing about how “holy” and “loving” the poor woman’s DEATH was, had she succumbed to the stress that this completely unnecessary major surgical intervention placed on her debilitated body.

      ANY legal medically performed pregnancy termination is FAR safer than ANY full-term pregnancy – scientific FACT.

      A legal medically performed pregnancy termination is FAR safer than ANY C-section – scientific FACT.

      A legal medically performed termination would have been FAR safer for this patient, than invasive major surgery was. The invasive major surgery put the ONLY patient in the equation – the WOMAN – at a huge risk for death. And she is by no means out of the woods yet – she may yet succumb to the grievous damage unnecessarily done upon her, just like Angela Carder did:

      “As Angela Carder learned it is not just life vs. choice – but life vs. life. Angela Carder, 25 weeks pregnant, was critically ill. More than anything, she wanted to live. A court, however, ordered cesarean surgery based on claims of fetal rights. The surgery was performed over her objections as well as those of her physicians and family. Angela Carder died two days later – the cesarean surgery listed as a contributing factor. The fetus was born alive but died within two hours.”

      Your vicious misogynist lies have no place here, or anywhere civilized, for that matter. YOU harm women with your deliberate deceptions and intentional misinformation.

    • Arekushieru

      Oh, so you’re a MEDICAL DOCTOR, now? You DO know that Lupus has episodes of flaring, where it can appear to retreat, then return with a vengeance, right?

      Pregnancy and childbirth is a FAR more lucrative ‘business’ and CPCs take advantage of this to traffick babies and harm women. After all, childbirth and pregnancy are FAR more dangerous than abortion, and, if you were really concerned about the harms to women, you would be opposed to forced birth, yet you aren’t.

      You must think women are stupid. WOMEN are the ones who choose to terminate pregnancies. And that’s EXACTLY what Pro-Choice wants, unlike anti-choice, for women to make their OWN decisions about whether to CONTINUE OR TERMINATE a pregnancy.

      Abortion isn’t killing. It’s not the cause of death, after all. The cause of death is fetal incompatibility with life upon separation from the uterus.

      Like I asked, before, now you’re a medical doctor?

      The FETUS would have been extracted in one piece, anyways.

      Abortion isn’t murder.

      Please stop lying, antis.

    • BJ Survivor

      Why do you forced-birthers lie so damn much? If your cause is so holy and so righteous, why all the transparent lies?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1098741283 Kristy Cole

    Love the last line of the story!

  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    Yet another race-baiting, and inaccurate too!- white liberal: “Essentially, the church is claiming a right to discriminate against women as a matter of religious liberty, much as Bob Jones University claimed a religious right to discriminate against African Americans, a claim knocked down by the Supreme Court in 1983.”

    Apart from the enormous differences skipped over in an attempt to compare Catholics to (militant anti-Catholic) racists, the *facts* are wrong: BJU still had and has the legal right to discriminate against African-Americans, only without tax-exemption because the policy in question (no interracial dating among students) was deemed opposed to Federal policy. After the Supreme Court case they opted to carry on doing just that and pay full taxes, surprising even Robin’s namesake Martin E.Marty. They voluntarily ended the color bar in 2000 after a firestorm broke out over W addressing them while Catholic John McCain turned them down. Even the straightforwardly segregationist Goldsboro school in the US versus BJU case had the same choice- they could still be posting Whites Only signs now if they weren’t fussed about their tax exempt status.