I recently came across this NYTimes article about abortion in El Salvador, which is a unique country, legally speaking, because not only are total bans on abortion in place, even including when the life of the mother is in jeopardy, the ban is enforced by police and medical spies. Predictably, since the law was passed the maternal death rate has since reached a high of 1 in 350. This is probably a good time, yet again, to post a link about Queen Anne's Lace, an herbal implantation inhibitor that can cause a fertilized egg to leave the body painlessly, typically within 72 hours after conception. Again, this may be a bit of a tangent but I thought it was somewhat relevant
since it highlights the moral bankruptcy of covert organizations like Opus Dei, which was involved in enforcing the ban. Here are some choice quotes from the article.
The pope's appointment of Lacalle 11 years ago brought to the Archdiocese of San Salvador a different kind of religious leader. Lacalle, an outspoken member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, redirected the country's church politics. Lacalle's predecessors were just as firmly opposed to abortion as he was. What he brought to the country's anti-abortion movement was a new determination to turn that opposition into state legislation and a belief that the church should play a public role in the process. In 1997, conservative legislators in the Assembly introduced a bill that would ban abortion in all circumstances. The archbishop campaigned actively for its passage.
There are other countries in the world that, like El Salvador, completely ban abortion, including Malta, Chile and Colombia. El Salvador, however, has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor's office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal.
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 She argued that the existing law's exception for the life of the mother was outdated.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."...In January 1999, as the issue headed toward the second vote in the Assembly, Pope John Paul II visited Latin America. "The church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death," he declared in Mexico City."May the continent of hope also be the continent of life!"..."At the hospital they asked me what I had. I didn't want to say. I said I felt bad. They did tests on my urine, blood and lungs and found I had a severe respiratory infection. They did an ultrasound and found my kidneys, lung and liver were infected. And the ultrasound showed something else. They asked me: "Why do you have a perforated uterus? What have you done?" Then they did a vaginal exam, and it was the most painful thing for me in the world. They put something in me, and I cried out. They had two doctors holding me down. They said they knew I had had an abortion because my uterus was perforated and big and they would have to operate immediately. All I remember was going to the operating room, and then I don't remember anything because for the next six days I was in a coma"...
"Back-alley abortion" is a term that has long been part of the abortion debate. In the United States, in the years since Roe v. Wade, it has come to seem metaphorical, perhaps even hyperbolic, but it happens to conjure precisely D.C.'s experience. And it's easy in El Salvador to find plenty of evidence that D.C.'s story is neither isolated nor the worst case. A report by the Center for Reproductive Rights offers this grim list of tools used in clandestine abortions: "clothes hangers, iron bars, high doses of contraceptives, fertilizers, gastritis remedies, soapy water and caustic agents (such as car battery acid)."...when a woman might face jail time for an abortion, she's less likely to discuss her pregnancy at all. According to a study on attempted suicide and teen pregnancy published last year by academics at the University of El Salvador, some girls who poison their wombs with agricultural pesticide (its efficacy being a Salvadoran urban legend) would rather report the cause of their resulting hospital visit as "attempted suicide," which is not as felonious a crime nor as socially unbearable as abortion. "They don't want to be interviewed about abortion," Irma Elizabeth Asencio, one of the study's authors, explained to me. "They know they have committed a crime."...
Abortion as it exists in El Salvador today tends to operate on three levels. The well-off retain the "right to choose" that comes of simply having money. They can fly to Miami for an abortion, or visit the private office of a discreet and well-compensated doctor. Among the very poor, you can still find the back-alley world described by D.C. and the others who turn up in hospitals with damaged or lacerated wombs..."When we get a call from a hospital reporting an abortion," said Flor Evelyn Tópez, "the first thing we do is make sure the girl gets into custody. So if there is not a police officer there, we call the police and begin to collect evidence." Tópez is a prosecutor in the district of Apopa in San Salvador...Wandee Mira, an obstetrician at a hospital in San Salvador, told me that she had seen "a young girl handcuffed to her hospital bed with a police officer standing outside the door." "Yes, we sometimes call doctors from the Forensic Institute to do a pelvic exam," Tópez said, referring to the nation's main forensic lab, "and we ask them to document lacerations or any evidence such as cuts or a perforated uterus." In other words, if the suspicions of the patient's doctor are not conclusive enough, then in that initial 72-hour period, a forensic doctor can legally conduct a separate search of the crime scene. Tópez said, however, that vaginal searches can take place only with "a judge's permission."...Doctors in El Salvador now understand that it is their legal duty to report any woman suspected of having had an abortion.
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." Valdés estimated that her hospital treated more than a hundred ectopic pregnancies each year. She described the hospital's practice. "Once we determine that they have an ectopic pregnancy, we make sure they stay in the hospital," she said. The women are sent to the dispensary, where they receive a daily ultrasound to check the fetus. "If it's dead, we can operate," she said. "Before that, we can't." If there is a persistent fetal heartbeat, then they have to wait for the fallopian tube to rupture....
One doctor, who asked to remain anonymous because of the risk of prosecution, explained that there are creative solutions to the problem of ectopic pregnancies: "Sometimes when an ectopic pregnancy comes in, the attendant will say, 'Send this patient to the best ultrasound doctor.' And I'll say, 'No, send her to the least-experienced ultrasound doctor.' He'll say, 'I can't find a heartbeat here.' Then we can operate."
In the United States, this conundrum is only beginning to emerge, as it did on "Meet the Press" in October 2004, when Tim Russert, the host, asked Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican representative then in the middle of what turned out to be a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate, to explain his position in favor of a total ban on all abortion procedures. DeMint was reluctant to answer Russert's repeated question: Would you prosecute a woman who had an abortion? DeMint said he thought Congress should outlaw all abortions first and worry about the fallout later. "We've got to make laws first that protect life," he said.