Shakespeare or Stein? An Abortion in El Salvador for Beatriz

The Huffington Post | 6-4-2013

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, by William Shakespeare.

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Sacred Emily, by Gertrude Stein.

Beatriz got her abortion, and her life was saved. The fetus-child-baby (you choose) that she was carrying was dead before the procedure was carried out. What is the name for a dead fetus still in utero? And what is the name for removing this dead fetus from the mother before it kills her? What is in a name?


A 22 year-old El Salvadorian woman, Beatriz, was pregnant with her second child and discovered that the child had anencephaly - a condition where the child had no brain and only a partial skull. Beatriz herself had lupus and hypertension, and continuing the pregnancy would risk her life.

The child had no brain. No brain function. The unborn child was dead. Cerebral death is death. A heart may continue beating for a time after the brain ceases functioning but the patient is dead when the brain stops functioning. The child was not 'alive'. There was no 'life' to terminate with an abortion. Nature had already done that.

Beatriz's doctors were in a quandary, given El Salvador law.

El Salvador's original name is Provincia de Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, el Salvador del Mundo ("Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World"), which tells you that this country is seriously Catholic in origin. Abortion is forbidden in El Salvador for any reason, even to save the life of the mother. Life from the moment of conception is protected in the Constitution.

So Beatriz and the hospital went to the Supreme Court of El Salvador, which ruled, predictably, that an abortion was not permitted, because they had to protect the 'life' of the fetus, which sadly had none anymore, and because Beatriz's health problems were under control. The court did add that her doctors could proceed with interventions if Beatriz's health deteriorated to the point where danger was imminent.


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