“Do you remember Beatriz?” is the question feminists in El Salvador are asking today as they announce the filing on November 29 of a lawsuit on behalf of Beatriz with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in New York against the Salvadoran government for violations of human rights.
In the spring of 2013, Beatriz faced a pregnancy gone terribly wrong and, on the advice of her doctors that an abortion was necessary to save her life and safeguard her health, asked them to perform the procedure. She had life-threatening health conditions and the fetus was anencephalic (without a brain). Abortion, however, is illegal in El Salvador no matter the circumstances and despite threats to her own health and life, Beatriz and her doctors risked lengthy prison terms in the effort to save her life.
The lawsuit was filed by the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador, the Feminist Collective for Local Development, CEJIL (Center for Justice and International Law), and Ipas Central America.
December 2 also marks the launch of the organizations’ campaign of support for Beatriz, which goes through December 10, International Human Rights Day. Organizers are asking for demonstrations of support for Beatriz by displaying the campaign logo and sending supportive messages through social media.
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In April 2013, Beatriz, with the support of the Citizen Group and Feminist Collective, went to the Salvadoran Supreme Court to request an abortion. When the Court refused to take action, the organizations went to the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which eventually ruled that the Salvadoran government must take the necessary steps to protect her life and health. On that basis, the public hospital performed what they termed a cesarean section on June 3 when she was 26 weeks pregnant. The baby died five hours later, as had been expected.
The lawsuit demands the reparation of the damages suffered by Beatriz and seeks to order the Salvadoran government to modify its laws in order to fully guarantee women the right to health, personal integrity, reproductive rights, and effective judicial protections.
The petitioning organizations assert that the Salvadoran government is responsible for the multiple human rights violations Beatriz suffered, rights that are protected by the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, and the Inter-American Convention on Violence Against Women.
Feminist organizations assert that Beatriz’s story reflects the consequences of the absolute criminalization of abortion and the institutional violence that is exercised against Salvadoran girls, adolescents, and adult women. According to data gathered by the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, between 2000 and 2011, a total of 129 women in El Salvador have been charged with abortion or aggravated homicide, with sentences ranging between two and 40 years in prison. Currently there are at least 30 women serving prison such sentences, the majority having suffered the loss of their pregnancies for various obstetric complications.