Have you ever wondered what a world without abortion might actually look like?
Let me amend that: There will obviously never be a world without abortion. Have you ever wondered what a world without legal abortion would look like?
If so, look no further than El Salvador, where abortion --all abortion --is not just banned but criminalized. On Thursday, Amnesty International released an extremely disturbing report, “On the Brink of Death: Violence Against Women and the Abortion Ban in El Salvador.”
The influence of an inflexible Catholic Church and the country’s archaic attitudes towards women’s rights have combined to make El Salvador one of the most antiabortion places in the world. Hard to believe, but it's even worse than Mississippi.
El Salvador is a place where 9-year-old girls impregnated by rape are forced to bear children, where women have no choice but to continue potentially deadly ectopic pregnancies, where women who have miscarriages are routinely accused of trying to abort their fetuses and imprisoned for murder if found guilty.
In El Salvador, a woman literally cannot have an abortion to save her life.
The report tells the story of Beatriz, a 22-year-old pregnant woman whose case became an international cause celebre among reproductive rights activists last year, when she was denied a potentially life saving abortion. Beatriz, pregnant with her second child, had lupus and kidney disease, a complication of lupus. Early in her pregnancy, her baby was discovered to be anencephalic, lacking a portion of brain and skull, a condition incompatible with life.
For months, Beatriz and her advocates fought to end the pregnancy in order to save her deteriorating health. The case dragged on, despite interventions by the United Nations and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In her seventh month of pregnancy, the Salvadoran government permitted Beatriz to have an early caesarean section. The baby died hours later.
Oh, but the “good news”?
El Salvadoran authorities were able to claim that no abortion had taken place, as the pregnancy was advanced enough to be considered a birth.
“By gambling with Beatriz’s life,” said the Amnesty International report, “the authorities were able to claim that no new legal precedent had been set and that the total prohibition on abortion had been respected.”
Last week, NPR told the astonishing story with video, of a Salvadoran woman, Christina Quintanilla, who served four years of a 30-year sentence after being convicted of murder at age 17 for giving birth, prematurely, to a stillborn baby.
“The hospital had found no evidence that she had intentionally aborted the pregnancy,” NPR reported. “But the district attorney pushed forward anyway, arguing that Quintanilla had terminated the pregnancy because she couldn’t support another child.”
She was released from prison, NPR reported, only after a young lawyer stumbled across her case and was able to argue that her baby’s cause of death was never established.
Amnesty International’s El Salvador report is the second of five focusing on reproductive rights (or lack thereof) around the world. The first examined Nepal; others will look at Burkina Faso and Magreb and Ireland.
I’m looking forward to the report on Ireland. That country is so backward when it comes to abortion rights that in 2012, doctors essentially let a 31-year-old woman die of infection after she miscarried and they refused to remove the 17-week old dying fetus from her body until it was too late.
Savita Halappanavar’s husband said later he was told that no abortion would be performed because “it was the law, that this is a Catholic country.”
This is what happens when religion trumps women’s choices, women’s health and women’s lives – in El Salvador, in Ireland and increasingly in the United States, thanks to a Supreme Court that puts an employer’s religious beliefs above a female employee’s right to contraception, and relentless state efforts to roll back abortion rights.
You wonder if what has happened in El Salvador and Ireland could happen here?
In some ways, it already has.