NEW YORK, June 14 (C-FAM) An attempt to use a hard case to change national abortion laws unexpectedly backfired on UN human rights experts and abortion advocates this week. A tense international political and legal standoff ended instead with a mother in recovery, a baby girl whose brief life ended by natural causes, and a frustrated collection of activists scrambling to do damage control.
The case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman, became an international cause célèbre fomented by activists – including UN officials – politicizing her plight to pressure El Salvador to legalize abortion. The tactic of using misinformation to provoke international indignation on a specific “hard case” is a familiar one, echoing previous stories from Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Poland and elsewhere.
Beatriz (a pseudonym) suffered from lupus and her unborn child was diagnosed with anencephaly, the failure of part of the brain and skull to form. Once outside the womb, anencephalic babies rarely survive long.
Feminist groups circulated petitions to pressure El Salvador to allow a “life-saving” abortion for Beatriz. UN human rights experts urged El Salvador to launch a national discussion on exceptions to abortion bans, ”especially in cases of therapeutic abortion and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered El Salvador to allow any measures to save Beatriz’s life.
On May 30, El Salvador’s high court ruled against abortion. The health minister granted permission for Beatriz to undergo an emergency caesarian section, stressing this was not an abortion but rather the induced birth of the child at 27 weeks’ gestation. Beatriz’s daughter lived for five hours after her birth.
As Beatriz recovered from surgery, pro-abortion groups claimed the procedure she had undergone was an abortion. Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check lamented that an “anti-choice spin machine” had influenced the New York Times and other media because they used words like “birth” and “baby” instead of “abortion” and “fetus.”
This is not the first time groups campaigning to overturn pro-life laws misrepresented a woman’s story to push abortion. In 2006, the New York Times falsely claimed that a woman’s 30-year jail sentence in El Salvador was for an abortion despite court records showing she was convicted of strangling her newborn. The reporter had collaborated with a translator associated with pro-abortion advocacy group Ipas. After being contacted by the New York Times public editor, Ipas removed references to the woman’s case from their fund-raising materials.
Ipas also withdrew from its website the story of a 9-year-old girl from Nicaragua pregnant by rape. Ipas and other pro-abortion groups rallied an all-out publicity campaign to obtain an abortion for her. A documentary promoted by Ipas presented the parents as heroes. Later, it emerged that not only was the girl’s stepfather her rapist, but he impregnated her again at 13. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail, amid allegations that the feminist groups supporting him had known of his crimes and helped conceal them.
Beyond the politics of “hard cases” is the question of whether abortion is ever medically necessary. Even in difficult cases like Beatriz’s, “abortion is not the answer nor is it needed,” writes Dr. Hans Geisler in a letter to the Indy Star. “Hyperbole, on the part of the pro-choice lobby, is not the answer. Conversely, reliable, sound, comprehensive medical care is.”