Friday, May 31, 2013

El Salvador Supreme Court Blesses State-Sanctioned Murder

The Supreme Court of Injustice, El Salvador



























When a woman is pregnant with a doomed fetus - and when continuing the pregnancy will certainly damage her health irrevocably if it doesn't kill her immediately - is a law that forces her to continue the pregnancy pro-life? If the justification for denying abortions to women no matter what the circumstances is "respect for life", how do anti-choice activists square that justification with the reality that even when only one life, the woman's, is in jeopardy - and her life could be easily saved by ending the pregnancy - they continue to insist on the hardline no-exceptions anti-abortion laws?

Should the Salvadoran state 
have the right 
to murder this woman?
There really are no adequate words to describe or explain the deeply-rooted misogyny that underpins nearly all anti-choice activism. Anti-choice ideology has never been about "life"; it has always been about controlling women. The most recent surge of "pro-life" ideology in the USA can be traced directly back to Roe v Wade and the women's rights movement. The "pro-life" movement was a reaction to that landmark case establishing women's reproductive autonomy during the so-called "sexual revolution". The movement's goal was to restore the former legal apparatus which would compel women to return to reproductive slavery by criminalizing most female-controlled methods of reproductive control and to pass legislation enabling the state (and theocratic society) to punish sexually active women through denial of access to contraceptives or reproductive healthcare and through forced pregnancy. It is an ideology which refuses to acknowledge that most women are at risk of unwanted sexual activity and involuntary pregnancy at some point in their lives, and refuses to protect women from the consequences of coerced or forced sexual intercourse which it largely denies ever occurs. It is an ideology that presupposes that women are wanton, immoral sexual libertines who have no normal human feelings about life or its sanctity nor any normal human feelings toward other people. It is an ideology that rests on the assumption that women are so deficient in normal human sensibility that they can casually kill for convenience. It is an ideology based upon a distrustful hatred - and dehumanization of - women at the most primitive level of human subconsciousness.

For anti-choice activists, the core principle is that no woman should ever have sexual freedom because women cannot be trusted to behave like moral, neurologically-normal (male) human beings who possess a fully-developed conscience and natural human feelings. The only sexual activity a woman should be allowed is to be the sexually submissive "partner" within the bonds of matrimony, under the "headship" of a man - and at his pleasure. Under this system, while a woman may possibly be able to avoid marital rape if she has a decent husband, she is never allowed to effectively avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Whether a pregnancy is unplanned or planned, forced through rape or incest, an accident of failed contraception (if, indeed, a woman is able to get access to effective female-controlled contraception), discovered after a serious health issue has been discovered or any other of the dozens of ways women become unintentionally pregnant in any given year - anti-choicers say that no woman should ever have the right to say "no" to any pregnancy once fertilization has occurred. It is their trump card.

The modern "pro-life" movement is largely
funded by religious groups, but its roots
go much deeper in human culture.
To their fury, those who wish to deny women human rights realize that they cannot stop women from being sexually active beings who believe they are equal to men. That genie slipped out of the bottle for good after the sexual revolution. So, to ensure that sooner or later most women will be confronted with the brutal reality of their true place in this patriarchal world, the anti-choice movement campaigns for a state-sanctioned no exceptions, forced-pregnancy trap criminalizing nearly all reproductive choices which put women's bodily autonomy under their own control. Women are still not regarded as fully human beings. In spite of rhetoric paying lip service to notions of "respect" and "equality", the reality is that legally and/or culturally in nearly every society on the planet women continue to be regarded as little more than animals reduced to nothing but their biological functions. Perhaps even less than animals, since there are actually legal protections for most animals who face unintended pregnancies, and most people also recognize that animals have some emotions, feel pain and ought to be spared unnecessary suffering. When the topic is abortion, however, women are erased from the discussion; their emotions, physical pain and unnecessary suffering is ignored. All focus is centered on a zygote or fetus as if it is independently floating in space inside a magical bubble of "life"; as if its existence does not impact another human being's body and life at all. Because women are considered less than human beings - mere walking wombs - this is exactly how human cultures can continue to regard the issue as a "pro-life" one. When only one "life" is recognized as valid and fully human (the potential offspring of a fully human man), the threat to its existence may seem to be the only threat to "life". If a walking womb is maimed or dies while being forced to gestate a fetus it did not choose to carry, no human being has actually been harmed.

The ultimate social priority of religion is to confirm and enforce the authority of men over women. To that end, religious conservatives - and their men in government - are willing to grant even rapists and abusers privileges over women, to safeguard the authority of "godly" men. In short, in order to protect the privilege of all men, themselves included of course, even "godly" men who profess to abhor rape willingly award rapists and abusers the right to reproduce using women's bodies against their will. As always, there is no thought spared for the humanity of the women who would be sacrificed to this Christian ideology. At best, they are dismissed as the "blessed" recipients of a "gift from God". Wait, Consent Means WHAT? NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.

No matter how this
happened - it's her
cross to bear, now!
While many people would protest that this is not how they think or feel - and that may be true on an individual level - the reality all over the world is that in the eyes of the law in most societies, women are still possessions to be used by men for reproduction. Anti-choice zealots right here in the "progressive" west are proudly willing to force women to be pregnant by rape and incest in order to protect all men from the possibility that some day, somewhere, some woman might dare to deny a man the right to use her body to reproduce. In patriarchal societies, it seems likely that it is a fear that sexually emancipated women will abuse their perceived "power" to control men's ability to reproduce which ignites the anger and feelings of "male victimhood" behind the drive to control women. While a few anti-choice ideologues may ruefully admit that unjust forced births are regrettable, most are satisfied to sacrifice a few innocent women as a lesson to all that no woman who is sexually active without permission will ever go unpunished. If we allow any exceptions, the argument goes, then what would stop women from lying to obtain abortions (to deny men fatherhood!) any time they want them? The accompanying visual of the free-floating fetus (usually portrayed as a full-term baby or even a school-aged child), underlines the false and inflammatory notion that abortion is the murder of a living person equal to a 6 year old child, not the termination of a barely visible pregnancy which can only progress to viability if it uses an actual living woman's body for nine months - at great cost to her. Again, the argument is predicated on underlying assumptions that women are manipulative, amoral, sexually promiscuous, inhuman liars who are capable of killing without conscience and will say or do anything to get away with it.

Women are confronted daily with the harassment and intimidation of a human culture which seethes with resentment toward them.  But nowhere is the starkness of cultural misogyny more evident than in the viciously anti-woman agenda of the perversely named "pro-life" movement. This movement, backed by most of the world's major religions (but probably predating them), cheerfully condemns women to the status of mere incubators for the progeny of men. The physical toll of pregnancy (whether chosen or not chosen by the woman) is ignored; the risk of permanent disability or death due to pregnancy to all women - even seemingly healthy women - is ignored; the barely-existent "right" of women to be free of sexual or reproductive slavery is ignored.

That is because the "right to life" of a conceptus is, in fact, really just an extension of men's rights. A conceptus is always some man's potential offspring and, at its core, religious teaching is all about enshrining the right of every man to reproduce. If women are allowed the freedom to choose when and if they will become pregnant, some men would almost certainly have difficulty finding a willing mate with whom to procreate. Religions which enforce the authority of men over women and which restrict the freedom and choices of women therefore speak to the root of cultural misogyny - men's fear of the potential power of women to control their (men's) ability to reproduce. "Right to life" is actually the trojan horse by which male rights over women are being inserted directly into women's uteri. That's right. It's a great big legal 'fuck you, women'! NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.
When a woman is forced to endure the permanent
physical damage of pregnancy,
and the agony of labor and delivery of a dead fetus
in service of the ideology of others,
it is simply a her "cross to bear".
Such is the cold, 
pitiless inhumanity
 of "right to life" zealots.

Beatriz in El Salvador is facing this terrible reality today. A 22-year old mother of one toddler is being forced by the state of El Salvador to continue a pregnancy which may very well kill her. The fetus she is carrying has anencephaly - it has no brain and parts of its skull are missing. It will almost certainly die before or during birth and definitely cannot survive after. Only as a passenger in Beatriz's body - using Beatriz's blood, organs and taking nutrition from her - has the fetus survived to date.

The 22-year-old woman suffers from severe and complicated illnesses. Her doctors have told her that she will likely die giving birth, and the unborn child will most likely live only a few hours, but she is prevented by law from having an abortion.
"They [the Supreme Court] were not convinced this is the way... they are saying Beatriz is not in danger and she must pursue the natural way of delivery and we must see what happens," said Mata (Beatriz's lawyer). CBS News, May 30, 2012.

In addition to facing the long list of health risks that even a normal, voluntary pregnancy poses to a healthy woman, Beatriz faces a serious risk of dying if the pregnancy continues. The ethical medical protocol should be to urgently terminate the pregnancy to prevent further, unavoidable grave health consequences and possibly (her doctors say "probably") death. Beatriz has a number of health issues, among them a severe case of lupus, which is a serious autoimmune disorder. A video on YouTube which shows just Beatriz's hands as she softly tells her story, points to the possibility that she may possibly suffer from other autoimmune disorders - her hands show signs consistent with both vitiligo and rheumatoid arthritis - which suggests that in her case, one of the contributing factors to her extremely high risk of severe harm or death due to an inadvisable pregnancy is the possibility of a cascade of autoimmune disorders essentially shutting down her organ functions.

In the ruling, the court cited doctors as saying that “an eventual interruption of the pregnancy would not imply, much less have as an objective, the destruction of the fetus.”
Beatriz’s lawyer, however, described the ruling as “misogynistic” because it placed the rights of a fetus with little chance of surviving after birth over the welfare of a sick woman who already has an infant boy to care for.
“The court placed the life of the anencephalic baby over Beatriz’s life,” said Víctor Hugo Mata, one of her lawyers, speaking by phone from the Supreme Court. “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”
Last month, a group of doctors overseeing Beatriz’s care at the National Maternity Hospital sent a report to the Health Ministry arguing that as the pregnancy progressed, the risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase. Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman, Karla Zabludovsky and Gene Palumbo, The New York Times, May 29, 2013.

El Salvador is one of the few remaining nations which still officially enshrines reproductive enslavement of women in its laws. There, abortion under any circumstances - including rape and health (or life) of the woman - is criminalized and harsh sentences are passed on women who break the law, sometimes even after spontaneous miscarriage. The country whose national motto is "God, Unity, Freedom" ensures through forced-birth laws like this that the first word in the motto reigns supreme, even canceling out the other words - and definitely the last word - if you happen to be a woman.

People writing about this outrageous miscarriage of justice have frequently asserted that El Salvador is a putatively "Catholic" country, therefore blaming the Catholic Church for this among its many other crimes. But there is a danger that this viciously misogynist activism will be dismissed as a "Catholic" problem, even as the power of the Catholic church declines, thus giving cover to the other groups behind the push to roll back women's rights. Latin America has been heavily targeted by evangelical Christian "missions" over the past 30 years and those "missionaries" exported their anti-choice ideology along with their Christian fundamentalism. El Salvador now has a population whose religious affiliation reflects that fact. While just over 50% of the population still identifies as Catholic, nearly 30% identify as Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant. This anti-choice ideology is not strictly a "Catholic" thing - indeed before the Protestant insurgency in the region, the rules around abortion had gradually been relaxing even when a much higher percentage of the population identified as Catholic.

Denial of the basic human right to bodily autonomy - and denial of the right to life of an innocent woman - makes a complete mockery of the claims of "civilized" people everywhere that they respect life. Whether for religious reasons - or simply in response to older, more deeply-ingrained animal drives - women in every society on earth still struggle for life and freedom in a world which brutally reduces them to a dehumanized tool in the service of the reproductive needs of men.

Here is a petition to ask the Obama administration to speak out against this travesty.





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