Shakespeare or Stein? An Abortion in El Salvador for Beatrix

by Alexander Sanger

“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.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights immediately ordered the government of El Salvador to act swiftly to protect Beatriz’s “life, personal integrity and health”.

Into the breach stepped the Health Minister of El Salvador, who ruled that the pregnancy could be interrupted by delivering the baby by caesarian section in order to protect Beatriz’s life. Beatriz was at that time 27 weeks pregnant, and the C-section was immediately performed.

Was it an ‘abortion’?

What is in a name? In South Africa, abortion is called ‘termination of pregnancy’. What do we call what Beatriz had? ‘Interruption of pregnancy’, ‘termination of pregnancy’, ‘C-section’?

Whatever Beatriz had, the road to getting it was a cruel one, akin to torture. Is this what a woman has to go through – the Supreme Court, the Inter-American Court and the Health Ministry – to save her life and control her childbearing?

Which is just what the powers-that-be in El Salvador do not want – women controlling their childbearing. This case does not change that. The law remains. The Constitution remains. They bent and called an abortion a C-section, but abortion and women controlling reproduction are still prohibited in El Salvador.

So what will woman in El Salvador do? Try to kill their fetuses with herbs or toxins, knitting needles and the like and then show up at the hospital and ask for a C-section, if they are still alive to ask. That is what women will do, and have always done, when they are pregnant with a child they do not want or cannot have.

There is a name for wanting to take care of these women and to give them the future they deserve. It’s called humanitarianism. Someday El Salvador will smell the roses and decriminalize abortion.


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