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Sunday, April 09, 2006

El Salvador

There is a great article in the New York Times magazine this weekend about the consequences of the banning of abortion in El Salvador. (Google "Pro-Life Nation" if the link has expired.) The doctors there have to, by law, report any women who come to them for care who may have had an abortion, and they even have "forensic vagina inspectors'" Even worse, there are women, one of whom is the mother of several small children, who have been sentenced to thirty years in jail for the crime of having an abortion.

Their actual crime? Being women and being poor. The rich can jet off to some other country and have an abortion, should they need it. The middle class can usually afford to pay off a doctor to have the procedure done safely. But the poor have to resort to back alley abortions, risking their lives and their future fertility, as well as long jail sentences.

And this policy is carried out to its logical but extreme conclusion––protection of the fetus above and beyond all else. There is not exception for saving the life of the mother:
Julia Regina de Cardenal runs the Yes to Life Foundation in San Salvador, which provides prenatal care and job training to poor pregnant women. She was a key advocate for the passage of the ban. She argued that the existing law's exception for the life of the mother was outdated. As she explained to me, "There does not exist any case in which the life of the mother would be in danger, because technology has advanced so far." De Cardenal was particularly vehement in responding in print to her opponents. As she wrote in one Salvadoran newspaper column in 1997, "The Devil, tireless Prince of Lies, has tried and will continue to try to change our laws in order to kill our babies."
And even non-viable ectopic pregnancies are protected. These are pregnancies in the Fallopian tube that will inevitably fail and, when they do, the mother can bleed to death internally:
A policy that criminalizes all abortions has a flip side. It appears to mandate that the full force of the medical team must tend toward saving the fetus under any circumstances. This notion can lead to some dangerous practices. Consider an ectopic pregnancy, a condition that occurs when a microscopic fertilized egg moves down the fallopian tube — which is no bigger around than a pencil — and gets stuck there (or sometimes in the abdomen). Unattended, the stuck fetus grows until the organ containing it ruptures. A simple operation can remove the fetus before the organ bursts. After a rupture, though, the situation can turn into a medical emergency.

According to Sara Valdés, the director of the Hospital de Maternidad, women coming to her hospital with ectopic pregnancies cannot be operated on until fetal death or a rupture of the fallopian tube. "That is our policy," Valdés told me. She was plainly in torment about the subject. "That is the law," she said. "The D.A.'s office told us that this was the law."
The Republic of Gilead......or the future of South Dakota, and perhaps the USA?


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