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April 09, 2006

Sunday Sermonette: Jack Hitt inside "pro-life" El Salvador

In this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine Jack Hitt explains how criminalized abortion works in the real world. [NYT permalink]

Hitt is writing about abortion in El Salvador, where all abortion has been illegal since 1998. He describes a nightmare world where rich women fly to Miami for abortions, middle class women swap DIY abortion remedies on the internet, and poor women get back alley abortions with coat hangers or pesticides.

At least El Salvador is morally consistent about the value of embryonic life. Sanctions are not limited to doctors. Women are severely punished for ending their pregnancies. If they aren't caught in the act, the state gets them after the fact when they seek medical help for life-threatening complications of botched abortions. The forensic vagina squad gets called in when a woman seeks treatment for "suspicious" signs and symptoms like a perforated uterus, uncontrollable bleeding, sepsis, and organ failure. Hitt describes abortion suspects shackled to their hospital beds and doctors subpoenaed to testify against their own patients. He even interviews a 26-year-old mother of 3 who is serving the fourth year of a 30-year prison term for her abortion.

How 'bout that culture of life, eh?

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Comments

And the Republicans say they don't believe in nation building.

I didn't realize until recently how sensitive pro-lifers were about the question of prosecuting women who get abortions. I'd always thought that was obvious--if you believe that abortion is murder, isn't it not just logically necessary to prosecute women, but in substance your goal? Nobody seriously thinks that laws criminalizing plain-vanilla murder will result in the elimination of murder, after all.

after seeing the clip of whats-his-name on Meet the Press (discussed in the NYT article) and some similar dithering elsewhere, I can't decide if pro-life politicians just think it's bad PR to admit that their policies will result in imprisoning women for having abortion, or somehow the whole idea genuinely didn't occur to them.

still, one of the prime themes of this blog, and others on the left, with respect to abortion is that the unstated goal of the right is essentially control of women; that is, that they're consciously motivated by a goal of reinforcing the patriarcy, rather than interested in abortion per se. I still think that's naive; I think the most powerful rhetorical tool on the right is to talk about dead babies, and I don't see any reason to assume that their motivation is more complicated than thinking of fetuses as babies, and not liking the idea of dead babies. The fact that they (meaning, I suppose, the activist base, and politicians pandering to them or genuinely in league with them) don't seem to have considered that the policy they propose means putting women in prison seems to me to be pretty good evidence for my view.

Somebody's got to help this woman and this woman's family.

Dan, how long has Handmaid's Tale been in print?

When I read that for the first time, back in the mid 90s, I was indignant. I was, then, a brainwashed prolifer for whom it was yes, all about the babies.

Of course we didn't want a theocratic male-dominated society where women were nothing more than serfs and breeders and doctors and gays were executed... What a fool Atwood was, to suggest it!

Except then I started more listening closely to the other conservatives around me, and reading our literature with an eye to disproving what Atwood portrayed - and finding more and more indications that under the veneer of politeness, chivalry, and equality was yes, this abyss. It was all Doublespeak, and code.

So there are a class/classes of naive gullible prolifers who don't stop and think through the consequences of their talk.

But they have no excuse - not historically, not at present. The proof, from Romania to US pre-1970s El Salvador is and always has been there. And the dramatization of it, in the Handmaid's Tale, suggesting how it would look here, has been out for 20 years now.

No excuse. (BTW, executing abortionists - always envisioned as male - and blowing up clinics - was discussed as a moral option/duty even among "nice" prolifers who would never, ever have gone Salvi and were in fact horrified when it happened - but used as a way of flogging ourselves as how weak and imperfect we were, that all we could do was vote Republican and would we have stood idly by this way if we'd lived down the road from Dachau? -Yes, we academic Catholic prolifers really did, and do, talk this way.)

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