Less than a month ago, few people knew who Beatriz was.
But over the last few days and weeks the horrific plight of this 22-year-old woman in El Salvador has inundated social media networks and travelled across the globe.
Mother-of-one Beatriz is pregnant and severely ill. She is currently in hospital with lupus and kidney problems. Her health situation is so severe that doctors say she could die if she continues with the pregnancy. The doctors have also diagnosed the foetus as anencephalic (lacking a large part of its brain and skull), which in almost all cases results in the baby’s death before or within a few hours or days of birth.
However, Beatriz’s doctors haven’t provided her with the life-saving abortion she needs and is asking for, because they fear they may be prosecuted under Salvadoran laws which impose prison sentences on anyone who performs or has an abortion.
Two months ago, the doctors wrote to the authorities asking for explicit protection from prosecution if they provide Beatriz with the treatment she critically requires. Despite the obvious urgency of the case, no officials had responded.
In desperation, Beatriz’s lawyers took her case all the way up to the country’s Supreme Court, asking them to uphold her rights to life and health.
We thought, with a case this clear and urgent, surely the courts would respond quickly to save this young woman’s life. Yet weeks later, the judges have also failed to treat this case with the urgency it merits. Their delays are unconscionable, as is their failure to issue a ruling that would respect Beatriz’s most basic human rights.
When Beatriz’s story came to light, I was in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador.
Our thoughts at the time were like those of many others in El Salvador: surely the state would use common sense and compassion, by guaranteeing this young woman her human right to life.
We hope that the judges are fully aware of the fact that the world is watching, waiting, and hoping that they do not fail this critical test of their capacity to protect and uphold human rights. Their apparent indifference so far to Beatriz’s suffering has increased concern to the extent that their reputation is now on the line.
This is a case with discrimination at its heart: Beatriz requires a medical treatment that only women and girls need, and she is poor. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out what would have happened if she had resources or influential connections.
As the days and weeks have passed, I have been horrified to see Salvadoran officials and judges standing by, watching Beatriz suffer pain and anguish, and not knowing if she will survive the pregnancy. The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all demanded that the state immediately ensure Beatriz access to the life-saving treatment she needs. Beatriz herself has made a recorded plea to the president.
It is utterly inexcusable for the Salvadoran authorities to deny life-saving treatment to Beatriz. Each official should remember that they have individual responsibility – and potential culpability – for their part in the pain and suffering their failure to act causes.
Dozens of women and men have taken to protesting outside the Supreme Court, asking for justice for Beatriz. When I was last there, some were shouting a stark warning to the judges inside. “Indifference kills and silence is its accomplice!” Others stood with signs which simply asked the question : “Who will guarantee Beatriz’s human rights?”
Two months on since the request to save her life was first made, we still don’t know the answer to this question.
We urge the authorities to act now to save Beatriz’s life.
Each official and judge who does not do what they can to save Beatriz, or to prevent her suffering severe health damage, risks having blood on their hands.
The world is watching El Salvador. Day by day the pressure is mounting on the authorities and judges to do the right thing, and help a young woman who desperately wants to live.