Monday, April 10, 2006

Yes? You in the back...

I've got a few questions.

I took 20 minutes to myself on Saturday night and read Jack Hitt's article in the New York Times magazine about abortion in El Salvador.

In El Salvador, it is illegal to have an abortion. For any reason. Rape, incest, unviable fetus, mental/physical welfare of the mother. Never mind a broken condom. So up to this point it's looking similar to what's in the works in South Dakota. (Thanks again to Phantom for helping us digest that.) Except that in El Salvador, they will arrest anyone in sight who they suspect of having an abortion, search her vagina for evidence, and potentially imprison her and anyone who "helped" her for a long, long time. Oh, wait, this also includes medical professionals who suspect that women have had illegal abortions and then don't report them, as the government requires. (The extra-funny part is that there is some semblance of doctor-patient confidentiality.) Everyone is suspect: women, doctors, nurses. Family members and friends get interrogated. Just another day in paradise.

Basically, this article scared the crap out of me because some U.S. states are getting pretty close to this.

So here are my questions:

1. Why, exactly, can't a woman make decisions about her own body?
2. Will a government or church make more moral decisions than women about women? (*cough*)
3. I don't want to get into a discussion of the parity of human life...the "when life begins" question. But I was thinking about the following: Approximately 20-25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, through no fault of anyone. Being pregnant is, as far too many of my friends will attest to, no guarantee that you will have a living baby in nine months. In El Salvador, they seem to be banking on the 75% chance that a person is going to emerge and live. So what about people who knowingly infect their partners with HIV/AIDS, for which there is no cure? Hell, what about plain old STDs or even the flu--which can have fatal complications? Anybody else sense a bit of a moral quagmire?
4. What about when a woman's life is very much in imminent danger? An ectopic pregnancy, which will never be viable, can cause the fallopian tube to rupture and internal bleeding. Nope. Not good enough. In El Salvador, the woman is monitored, and only after the fetal heartbeat can no longer be detected are doctors allowed to operate. (Oh, this can cause terrible pain beforehand.)

From the article...
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."

5. What would happen if all the medical professionals refused to cooperate with the authorities? Not that I think it would ever happen, but it might be interesting.

This used to be the kind of thing where we could shake our heads sadly and say, "Well, in America we don't have to worry about that anymore." That age of innocence is over, and I am not sure where to go from here.

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