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. If they are able to persuade the patient to stay, though, doctors can operate the minute any signs of early rupturing are detected. Even a few drops of blood seeping from a fallopian tube will "irritate the abdominal wall and cause pain," Valdés explained. By operating at the earliest signs of a potential rupture, she said, her doctors are able to minimize the risk to the woman.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Perverting Life in El Salvador
Sad story in the New York Times magazine today about El Salvador, where abortion is prohibited in all instances, even in cases of rape or a medical threat to the mother. It's long but worth the read: