El Salvador Is at a Critical Human Rights Juncture
Beatriz Garcia would often lay flowers at her daughter’s grave, lost too soon to complications from anencephaly—a serious condition in which a baby is born without parts of her brain and skull. The baby, Leilani, died in her mother’s arms five hours after birth. And this young mother, herself now deceased, has been catapulted to the forefront of the abortion debate in Latin America. A pending case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights threatens to dismantle pro-life protections in her home country, El Salvador, and Latin America at large.
Beatriz suffered from lupus, and when pregnant with her second child, was urged to abort. She lived in conditions of extreme poverty. At the time, pro-abortion activists seized on her case, which was taken to the Supreme Court of El Salvador. Because the country protects life from the moment of conception, the court ruled that doctors should take all possible measures for the protection of both the life of the mother and her unborn baby.
Beatriz delivered the baby at 26 weeks via c-section, after her doctors decided that was the best course of action for both mother and child. Fortunately, her lupus diagnosis was well managed, and she was under no risk, as the Inter-American Court itself acknowledged back in 2013. Had she been at risk, measures to save Beatriz’s life, even if they posed an unintended risk to Leilani, would have been allowed.
Four years later, aged 26, Beatriz died tragically from a motorcycle accident. Her legacy as the mother of Leilani, the baby she cradled in her arms, has been brutally distorted to advance a sham right to abortion. Media reports covering the much-anticipated case know no shame, insinuating Beatriz died from her disease as an extension of her “forced” pregnancy rather than from an unrelated accident. The Inter-American Court is set to hear the case this week in Costa Rica. It could overturn the protections for human life that El Salvador, as a sovereign state, has constitutionally enshrined. A subsequent ripple effect across the region could follow.
The Inter-American Commission has urged that El Salvador “take all measures necessary…to ensure that access to the termination of pregnancy…is effective in practice and that there are no practical or legal hurdles that preclude implementation.” Even more egregiously, it has made clear proclamations against the fundamental right to conscience inherent to every person, stating that anyone responsible for health services must refer for abortion services they are unwilling to provide. This flies in the face of what it means to actually protect conscientious objection—a blatant violation of basic human rights suggestive of what one would find in a dictatorship, not the democracies the Commission is supposed to foster.
El Salvador is far from alone in protecting unborn life. A majority of countries around the world protect the unborn with heavy restrictions on abortion access. And El Salvador is well within its legal prerogative to prohibit abortion. Despite what one might infer from frenetic pro-abortion rhetoric, there is no international “right” to abortion. International human rights law is grounded in a profound respect for all human life, born and unborn. El Salvador, as a sovereign state, has complete authority to protect unborn life. In fact, one can make a clear argument that this is not just a right, but a duty in conformity with full respect for the human right to life. Those of us convinced of the humanity of the unborn can only hope that one day all countries will take this duty seriously.
This is a crucial human rights juncture for El Salvador, and for all of Latin America. Sadly, Beatriz is not with us to speak to the true legacy of her motherhood. We must firmly reject efforts to manipulate her story to advance ideological agendas. It is imperative that the sovereign rights of El Salvador, and all countries, be supported to advance not only the right to life, but also the best possible support for mothers and families. Every human life is precious, and we pray that the Court recognizes this unchangeable reality.
Tomás Henríquez serves as director of advocacy for Latin America & Caribbean with ADF International, which is submitting an amicus brief for Beatriz & others v. El Salvador.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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