The Fight to Save Beatriz’s Life
Down with El Salvador’s Abortion Ban!
Protest outside the Supreme Court in San Salvador requesting a judicial order to permit an abortion
in the case of Beatriz, May 5. The high court turned down the petition. (Photo: EFE)
The following article is translated from a Spanish-language El Internacionalista leaflet.
Since the middle of April, and particularly in the last two weeks when her situation grew ever more critical, there has been a mounting cry to allow a young woman from El Salvador, Beatriz, to receive an abortion that would save her life. 22 years old, with a one year-and-a-half-old son, Beatriz (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) suffers from lupus and renal insufficiency (kidney disease), and thus her second pregnancy put her life at risk. The fetus was anencephalic (lacking a brain) and hadn’t the slightest chance of living outside the womb. In April, her doctors sought a court injunction to allow them to perform a “therapeutic abortion,” that is, to end the pregnancy in order to save her life.
After a hard legal battle, on May 28 the Constitutional Commission of the Supreme Court of the Central American country sadistically denied her petition to allow an abortion. One day later, a decision in her favor was published by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica. Subsequently, Beatriz’s long ordeal has come to an end: on Monday, June 3 doctors performed a Caesarean section which saved her life. The fetus did not survive. Since then, Beatriz’s illness has continued, but the possibilities for her recovery have improved considerably.
If by this fortunate turn of events the worst has been avoided, Beatriz’s case shed light on the grave problem of the ban on abortion, in all circumstances, that is in force today in El Salvador, as well as in other Latin American countries: Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru. Abortion is only permitted in Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Mexico City. In the rest of the continent, abortion remains penalized in most cases, and is only permitted when it is determined that the fetus is gravely deformed or that the life of the mother is at risk. In the United States abortion is, for the time being, legal, but increasingly difficult to obtain.
Against the religious obscurantists and political reactionaries, as well as the timid bourgeois reformers – all of whom are enemies of women’s rights – internationalist communists fight for the unrestricted right to free abortion on demand, at the sole decision of the woman. The legal prohibition of abortion is a sure indicator of the scale of the oppression suffered by women. It is no coincidence that the first country to legalize abortion was Soviet Russia, in 1920, as a result of the October Revolution.
Whether a woman gives birth should be her personal decision, and no one else’s. The ultra-reactionary fathers of the Catholic church, and bourgeois politicians of all stripes have no right to interfere. Although the right to abortion is a democratic right, it will not be made a reality for all women without a hard class struggle that is linked to the need to carry out a socialist revolution that extends internationally.
The case of Beatriz brings up important political lessons in this respect. The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, became Prime Minister under the banner of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the former guerrilla organization in the bloody civil war that rent the Central American country in the 1970s and ’80s which later became into a bourgeois party. Funes himself was not a FMLN member, but a popular television host chosen in order to beat the ultra-reactionary ARENA, the party of the death squads, at the polls. But despite their leftist pretentions, neither Funes nor the FMLN defended Beatriz.
The Salvadoran government appeared “divided.” On one hand, the Public Health minister, María Isabel Rodríguez, and the Attorney for Human Rights timidly supported Beatriz’s petition to the Supreme Court. This way they could pose as defenders of women’s rights and leave the decision to a reactionary institution that would rule against Beatriz. On the other hand, the Institute of Legal Medicine denied Beatriz the possibility of an abortion, aiding the Supreme Court in delaying its verdict until Beatriz approached the third trimester of her pregnancy so as to put her life in greater danger. Above all, they did not want to disturb the government’s reactionary allies.
Mauricio Funes himself launched the cynical slogan “Beatriz is not alone” (La Prensa Grafica [San Salvador], 13 May) without lifting a finger to help her. As Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación Civil para la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen’s Committee for the Decriminalization of Abortion) and a member of the Salvadoran Colectiva Feminista pointed out to El Internacionalista, “it was especially shocking that a supposedly ‘leftist’ government was in agreement with the most reactionary forces in the country and that it took no measures to save the life of Beatriz.” Even Funes’ declaration of solidarity was forced out of him when a picket of persistent protesters tried to approach the head of state, heavily guarded by dozens of soldiers, during the ceremonial opening of a new bridge.
In Nicaragua as well, the law that had allowed therapeutic abortion since 1893 was repealed in 2006 to prohibit abortion in all circumstances. The sponsor of this legislation was the conservative president at the time, Enrique Bolaños. But even more revolting was the role of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), another ex-guerrilla organization that took power in 1979 with the collapse of the bloody Somoza dictatorship, and which has now been born again (as in the case of its leader Daniel Ortega, who found religion after losing at the polls in 1989) as a bourgeois party. The FSLN congressional faction voted for this measure against the fundamental rights of women, and now Ortega’s government administers the law.
Even a perceptive article in the Christian Science Monitor (30 May) in the U.S. noted that “Two of the three Central American governments led by political parties that evolved from left-wing guerrilla movements”– the FMLN and FSLN – “are now hosts to the strictest abortion laws in the region.” The article comments that “when it comes to the reproductive rights of women, Latin America’s so-called revolutionary left is no different than the reactionary right – and sometimes worse.” Nevertheless, the reality is that both leftist groups were petty-bourgeois (and now bourgeois) nationalists and were never revolutionary communists like Farabundo Martí in the 1920s and ’30s.
This fact underlines that the fight for free abortion on demand, as part of a universal, high quality health care system, is not an issue for women alone. It requires the action of workers of both sexes and of all the oppressed against capitalism. In the U.S. for example, abortion was legalized in the early 1970s in part as a result of the emergence of a women’s movement, but also and above all due to the social unrest boiling up across the country following the uprisings against racism in the black ghettos and Latino barrios, a wave of combative strikes in the industrial centers and the struggle against the Vietnam War, which U.S. imperialism was losing.
The oppression of women will not be abolished by mere legislative reforms. For that it is necessary to put an end to its material basis: private property and the institution of the family that makes women into domestic slaves charged with the care of children. To liberate women from this heavy burden it will take a socialist revolution that socializes these family tasks. Thus we communists raise a working-class program for the liberation of poor and working women, with demands including:
Feminists, on the other hand, concentrate on breaking the “glass ceiling” which makes it difficult for petty-bourgeois and bourgeois women to obtain the highest positions of leadership. This has brought us figures like Hillary Clinton, who as U.S. Secretary of State, along with President Barack Obama, has managed to impose the veil on Libyan women, and has sought to do the same in Syria by arming “moderate” Islamic fundamentalists. Meanwhile, access to abortion is increasingly subject to restrictions (many of them approved by Democratic Party legislators).
Bourgeois feminists are so focused on appealing to the capitalist rulers and their arbiters of official morality that the president NARAL (which used to be called the National Abortion Rights Action League before it decided to drop the word “abortion” in favor of “choice”) launched an on-line petition asking Pope Francis to come to the aid of Beatriz! This is absurd and downright grotesque. The former Archbishop Bergoglio not only opposed the timid attempt in 2006 of the Argentine government to permit abortion in a few cases, in the 1970s, as head of the Jesuit order in Argentina he was complicit with the junta’s stealing of children of leftist political prisoners it murdered!
In El Salvador, the profound disdain for women’s rights on the part of the bourgeois rulers was made clear in the decision of the Supreme Court, which made itself perfectly clear: “This court holds that the rights of the mother can not take precedence over those of the naciturus” (fetus). This is a death sentence. Thus it ruled that “there is an absolute impediment to authorizing an abortion in that it would contradict the constitutional protection to the human person ‘from the moment of conception’.”
What noble “pro-life” sentiments of these reactionary magistrates who would condemn a women to die in the name of the survival (which in this case was impossible) of the naciturus! They are true heirs of Salvadoran dictator Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, a theosophist who once declared that “it is a greater crime to kill an ant than a man,” and then proceeded to order the slaughter of 30,000 peasants in the 1932 communist uprising. In the United States, the anti-abortion movement includes a layer of terrorists who have murdered or attempted to murder more than two dozen abortion doctors and bombed or burned 183 clinics and offices in the name of their “pro-life” agenda (statistics from the National Abortion Federation).
The reactionary campaigns “in defense of life” have intensified in recent years. The case of Mexico is illustrative. In the Federal District (Mexico City) a limited reform was approved in 2007 which permits the termination of pregnancy during the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy, but abortion itself is still considered a crime punishable by years of imprisonment. On top of this, is the states where the National Action Party (PAN, the heirs of the clerical-reactionary cristero revolt of the 1920s and the fascist sinarquista “golden shirt” squads of the 1930s) governs, legislatures in more than half the states of the country approved reactionary counter-reforms on the pretext of “protecting life from the moment of conception.”
By 2009, for example, some 130 women had been tried and jailed for having had an abortion, declared guilty of “aggravated homicide.” One of the states where abortion was outlawed under any circumstances is Baja California. Nine years before the state legislature voted the new misogynist law, the state government prevented Paulina, a 13-year-old child who had been raped, from being able to put an end to her pregnancy even though she had a legal right to do so. The bishop and the governor himself intervened to browbeat her.
Moreover, at the same time as religious and civil authorities persecute women for seeking to terminate unwanted and even life-threatening pregnancies, companies employing large numbers of women workers in Mexico routinely fire pregnant employees. As we have pointed out before:
“[I]t is standard procedure for maquiladora operators all along the border to administer pregnancy tests to female job applicants as well as women employees, in order to escape from the provisions of Mexico’s labor code, which provides for three months paid maternity leave and protection of pregnant women from dangerous tasks.”
– The Internationalist No. 1 (January-February 1997)
We communists defend against the capitalists and their state both the right of women to abortion and to give birth to the children they desire.
The right to abortion is a democratic issue, but also a question of class. In Latin America, the total ban on abortion has resulted in a situation where it is carried out in precarious medical conditions, making what would otherwise be a rather simple medical procedure into a risky operation. This affects above all poor and working women, like Beatriz, who can’t pay for a weekend trip to Miami to have an abortion. In the particular case of El Salvador, women who have abortions, as well as the medical teams which administer them, can be jailed for up to 30 years.
Between 2000 and 2011, at least 129 women were accused and tried for abortion and for murder connected to abortion, of whom 22 are imprisoned today with sentences of 25 to 40 years in jail. In many cases, they had spontaneous rather than induced abortions, but were then charged with aggravated murder (Univisión, 6 June)!
In a telephone conversation with El Internacionalista, Beatriz’s lawyer, Dennis Muñoz of the Citizens Group for Decriminalizing Abortion noted that the decision of the Inter-American Human Rights Court is binding on the Salvadoran government. But given the multiple means for impeding or postponing the carrying out of the urgent medical treatment, Muñoz insisted, “we must not let up” and continue international protest.
Today the lives of dozens of Salvadoran women are endangered by a pregnancy which the reactionary laws equate with first-degree homicide. These murderous anti-abortion laws must be smashed by the mobilization of the working class at the head of all the oppressed.
For that reason it
is urgent to fight for the complete
decriminalization of abortion in every
country of the hemisphere and the world.
The fight for free abortion on demand,
carried out in the safest medical conditions
in a system of quality medical care,
available to all, links a series of
elementary democratic tasks with the
necessary struggle for socialist revolution.
The case of Beatriz exemplifies the urgent
need to advance on this road. ■