El Salvador Abortion: Courts Order Woman to Carry Dying Fetus to Term

A Salvadorian court has ordered that a woman, named only Beatriz to protect her privacy, cannot have an abortion that her doctors consider to be necessary for her life. 

The law of the country is no abortion, for any reason. To protect a living fetus is more important than to ensure that the mother survives. Potential life outweighs the life that is already here.

A similar occurrence provoked international outcry this past year, as a young woman in Ireland was forced to continue to carry a fetus which had already died. Then the young woman, Savita Halappanavar, died herself, due to septic shock from bacteria introduced into her bloodstream while she continued to gestate a corpse. She died, in horrible pain, for nothing.

By the time the world learned about Savita, it was too late. It is not yet too late for Beatriz, who could face the same fate.

Beatriz is carrying a fetus with anencephaly. Her child developed with only part of a brain, only part of a skull, and has only a very slim chance of living past delivery. Beatriz herself has lupus, a dangerous autoimmune disease, one of the most dangerous, in fact, that often kills women of her age. Any stress on the body's systems exacerbates the effects of autoimmune problems. Carrying this child could kill her, and her doctors know this.

There is a danger we as U.S. citizens face — the danger of "othering."  We can fall into the trap of seeing this as a developing nation’s problem, the leftover issues that face places we see as less advanced than America. After all, we are talking about El Salvador, a country that seems very "other" to us, and a late-term abortion, which we would rather not contemplate at all.

However, at 26 weeks into her pregnancy, Beatriz is past the medically diagnosed point of viability. Theoretically, a fetus at that stage can live outside the womb. But Beatriz’ child will most likely not be able to live outside the womb. With the best possible outcome, it will survive on heavy life support for a few days, and then die anyway. 

Would it matter so much if the country weren’t predominantly Catholic? The archbishop weighed in on the decision and asked the Supreme Court not to grant the abortion. With pressure from a very powerful religion, the court, it appears, had little option. To go against the might of the Catholic Church is to buck years of tradition.  In America, that couldn’t have happened, right?

Wrong. This is not a developing nation’s problem, nor the problem of a nation with a strong Catholic or Christian tradition. France, also predominantly Catholic, has legal and affordable abortion.

Also, America, where the church is supposed to have no interference in the laws of the land, has similar laws as El Salvador in certain parts of the country.

An avowedly child-free person by choice, I can have no firsthand knowledge of what it is like to make a decision to terminate a pregnancy in the third trimester.  My decision would come much earlier.  However, one of my very best friends faced exactly that decision, and the law prevented her from making it for her own good. She was forced to carry a child, a much-wanted second child, her daughter, to term, when she knew the child was anencephalic. The baby died after three days. She is in Indiana, and I am in Massachusetts. I could not be there for her.

There is one ray of hope, if you can call it that, for Beatriz — if her bodily condition deteriorates far enough, she will be allowed to abort. She will need to be in imminent danger of death before then. If you were in her shoes, what would you hope for?

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Rebecca Gibson

Rebecca Gibson is graduating from Brandeis University with an MA in Women's and Gender Studies and Anthropology. Her major interests include LGBTQ rights, Victorian corsetry, osteology, archaeology, and marriage equality. She has taught, edited, and written for various university publications.

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