Since she was a child, Dr. Victoria Ramirez knew she wanted to be a doctor so she could help others. Now, as a practicing OB-GYN in El Salvador, she’s one of a growing number of doctors and other health professionals working to protect women’s health and lives by advocating for a repeal of the country’s total abortion ban.
Ramirez has cared for many girls and young women who, pregnant as a result of rape, had no legal option other than to continue with their pregnancies. “I began to ask why these girls didn’t have the right to a different future,” she says.
Earlier in her career, Ramirez participated in Ipas trainings on how to treat women suffering complications from unsafe abortion—a common reason for hospital visits in countries where abortion is restricted. More recently, Ramirez helped found the Salvadoran Doctors’ Union for Women’s Health and Lives (Unión Médica Salvadoreña por la Salud y Vida de las Mujeres), a growing group of doctors from all specialty areas who are working to educate the public and decisionmakers on the harmful impact of the abortion ban and the need for law change.
“It’s urgent to demonstrate that the Salvadoran medical community supports the need for law change,” Ramirez says. “It’s important that doctors are involved in the movement for legal abortion because this is a public health issue, and that’s how we need to understand it, leaving aside cultural traditions and religious beliefs.”
Here Ramirez explains why she does this work:
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
Ramirez: It was something I wanted since I was a child. I think I always liked the idea of working on something where I could directly help people. I believe I was always certain I’d become a doctor; medicine is something I’m passionate about, and there’s nothing better than being able to do something for someone and see the immediate result of that. I think it’s the career in which you can best serve other people, and I can’t imagine being anything other than a doctor.
How did you become an advocate for the right to safe abortion?
One of my most esteemed and respected professors during my OB-GYN residence was Dr. Guillermo Ortiz. He began publishing articles about access to safe abortion and other topics connected to Salvadoran women’s health, approaching them in a more humane way. In addition, I knew other women who fight for women’s rights, and it woke me up and made me realize that I was judging my patients according to my personal situation. I’ve always counted on the support of my family, I studied all my life in a private institution, I earned my degrees. When I realized that not all women live like me, I started seeing them differently, without judging them, without prejudice. I began to be interested in their social environment, their needs, their personal stories.
I was realizing what had happened to my patients who had children at age 15… that they had been victims of rape, that they came from places that were hard to reach geographically… I realized the pain of the mothers of these girls who didn’t know how to raise and educate a child in these conditions, and I began to ask why these girls didn’t have the right to a different future. It’s difficult to provide them with care, as they won’t even allow themselves to be examined because of the emotional trauma they suffered from the violence they endured at such an early age… It was cases like this and other types of cases that are very frequent in our hospitals—in which we don’t have options for treating our patients—that made me realize something is failing in our model of care.
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