I’m sure many Feministe readers have been closely following the story of Beatriz, a young Salvadoran mother with lupus who was pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. The pregnancy, which was doomed because the fetus had only a brainstem but no brain, was killing her. Her kidneys were shutting down, and the longer they were under stress, the higher the likelihood that if she didn’t die, she would need to be on dialysis for the rest of her life — a major hardship and almost definitely a life-shortener for a woman living in rural El Salvador with very limited access to health care. Doctors said Beatriz needed an abortion, but El Salvador has some of the strictest pro-life laws in the world, and their courts refused her the procedure under the logic that her life wasn’t imminently threatened (apparently since she would die in a few days or weeks, not minutes) and that it’s never ok to prioritize a woman’s life over a fetus’s life. Doctors in El Salvador got around the law by waiting until the 26th week of pregnancy and then performing a Cesarean section — a procedure everyone knew would result in the death of the fetus (which it did) but which can be construed as a “birth” instead of an abortion, even though the end result is the same. Of course, a C-section is significantly more dangerous than an abortion (and especially more dangerous than an earlier abortion, which Beatriz could have had two months ago if she didn’t live in a “pro-life” nation). C-sections are invasive surgical procedures, which are significantly more complicated than early abortions, and pose much higher risks of infection or complication, especially when performed on someone whose health is already compromised by lupus and potential organ failure. They take longer to recover from, and they’re more expensive. Beatriz, thankfully, seems to be doing fine. But she was still legally compelled to undergo a more dangerous, invasive and complicated procedure — and forced to have her body suffer through declining health — so that ideologues could feel better about the intent of a more dangerous procedure that everyone knew would have the exact same outcome as an earlier, safer one.
El Salvador is a model of pro-life laws. But it’s not the only place where we can see pro-lifers in action:
Then there are the women who aren’t physically killed or injured, but who are harassed, humiliated and made to feel like criminals simply for seeking out a medical procedure – like the 14-year-old Polish rape victim who not only had to petition a special prosecutor for the privilege to terminate her pregnancy, but was then denied an abortion at a Catholic hospital in her deeply religious country, harassed by pro-lifers, taken to the police station for questioning and removed from her mother and placed in juvenile care. As if that isn’t traumatising enough to a young teenager pregnant after rape, the hospital issued a press release bragging about its refusal to serve her.
Pro-lifers are proud of themselves for all of this. “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 defenceless,” said Julia Regina de Cardenal, director of the foundation Yes to Life, about Beatriz’s case in El Salvador. Yes, allowing a young mother to slowly die in the hospital because the life of a non-viable fetus is more important than hers is quite an example.
Even American pro-lifers got in on the act. Lila Rose, president of the anti-abortion group Live Action, which makes intentionally misleading videos about abortion clinics to further its ideological aims, told the Huffington Post that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life. Of course, doctors around the world would disagree – remind me where Rose studied medicine and obstetrics again? – but facts and evidence are not as true as Rose’s conviction.
“We can do better than pitting the life of a mother against her child,” she said. “Abortions are never medically necessary. Some doctors prescribe abortion as if it’s a treatment for a disease or a problem, but that’s not a solution a truly compassionate and just society should turn to.
“I don’t know what the doctors are advising her, but doctors have certainly been wrong,” Rose said.
Doctors have indeed been wrong in the past. But ask yourself who you want making medical decisions for you: You and your doctor, or Lila Rose?
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