Pro-Life Nation

The NYT Magazine has a piece by Jack Hitt about El Salvador’s strong criminalization of abortion that might as well have came straight from the NARAL propaganda factory. Mixed in with anecdotes about poor women stigmatized by unwanted pregnancies, we get this type of objective journalism:

More than a dozen countries have liberalized their abortion laws in recent years, including South Africa, Switzerland, Cambodia and Chad. In a handful of others, including Russia and the United States (or parts of it), the movement has been toward criminalizing more and different types of abortions. In South Dakota, the governor recently signed the most restrictive abortion bill since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973, in Roe v. Wade, that state laws prohibiting abortion were unconstitutional. The South Dakota law, which its backers acknowledge is designed to test Roe v. Wade in the courts, forbids abortion, including those cases in which the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Only if an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother is the procedure permitted. A similar though less restrictive bill is now making its way through the Mississippi Legislature.

In this new movement toward criminalization, El Salvador is in the vanguard. The array of exceptions that tend to exist even in countries where abortion is circumscribed — rape, incest, fetal malformation, life of the mother — don’t apply in El Salvador. They were rejected in the late 1990’s, in a period after the country’s long civil war ended. The country’s penal system was revamped and its constitution was amended. Abortion is now absolutely forbidden in every possible circumstance. No exceptions.

There are other countries in the world that, like El Salvador, completely ban abortion, including Malta, Chile and Colombia. El Salvador, however, has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor’s office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal. Like the woman I was waiting to meet.

Why, how could the United States even think of becoming more like those backward countries? Of course, aren’t Mississippi and South Dakata essentially third world countries, anyway, filled with Jesus loving backwards ass redneck hicks?

Now, granted, there is no move anywhere in the United States to apply criminal sanctions to women who seek abortions. Indeed, even in pre-Roe America (aka, “the Dark Ages”) sanctions applied only to doctors and facilities that performed the procedure.

Deep into the piece, we get this:

“Back-alley abortion” is a term that has long been part of the abortion debate. In the United States, in the years since Roe v. Wade, it has come to seem metaphorical, perhaps even hyperbolic, but it happens to conjure precisely D.C. [Note, this is an anonymous woman whose name is being protected to protect her from the Religious Zealots Who Would Deny a Woman Her Right to Choose (to kill her baby), not the town where Abortion Hater Bush lives]’s experience. And it’s easy in El Salvador to find plenty of evidence that D.C.’s story is neither isolated nor the worst case. A report by the Center for Reproductive Rights offers this grim list of tools used in clandestine abortions: “clothes hangers, iron bars, high doses of contraceptives, fertilizers, gastritis remedies, soapy water and caustic agents (such as car battery acid).” That list is meant to disgust a reader in the same way that imagery of mangled fetuses is meant to when employed by those who oppose abortion. But the criminalization of abortion in the modern age, in El Salvador at least, is not so simple as a grim return to the back alley. For the most part, the new law has not resulted in a spike in horror stories of painful and botched clandestine procedures.

To begin with, when a woman might face jail time for an abortion, she’s less likely to discuss her pregnancy at all. According to a study on attempted suicide and teen pregnancy published last year by academics at the University of El Salvador, some girls who poison their wombs with agricultural pesticide (its efficacy being a Salvadoran urban legend) would rather report the cause of their resulting hospital visit as “attempted suicide,” which is not as felonious a crime nor as socially unbearable as abortion. “They don’t want to be interviewed about abortion,” Irma Elizabeth Asencio, one of the study’s authors, explained to me. “They know they have committed a crime.”

Abortion as it exists in El Salvador today tends to operate on three levels. The well-off retain the “right to choose” that comes of simply having money. They can fly to Miami for an abortion, or visit the private office of a discreet and well-compensated doctor. Among the very poor, you can still find the back-alley world described by D.C. and the others who turn up in hospitals with damaged or lacerated wombs. Then there are the women in the middle; they often rely on home-brewed cures that are shared on the Internet or on a new underground railroad that has formed to aid them.

Yes, women do not wish to have a baby would have no options other than ingesting battery acid or trying to kill themselves were abortion not legal. After all, babies have been known to appear in wombs as if by magic. Further, there is no way for sexually active people to avoid getting pregnant. And who, aside from thousands of people on waiting lists for adoption, would want a baby, anyway?

Since an America that banned abortion would be just like El Salvador, those religious zealous from Jesusland must be stopped. A Pro-Life Nation is clearly a horrible place, indeed. It would be like going back in time to 1972, except with modern medicine.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Media, Policing, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    Actually, all the woman would have to do is make her way to the US illegally and stop by the first hosipial and she could get the abortion for free, courtesy of the US taxpayer…

    /end sarcasm.

  2. Jonk says:

    I find the rhetoric on both sides of this debate detestable.

  3. Of course, aren�t Mississippi and South Dakata essentially third world countries, anyway, filled with Jesus loving backwards ass redneck hicks?

    I can’t comment on Mississippi, but South Dakota sure is. If you include the Lakota Indian reservations, the median income and life expectancy is lower than any other state in the nation.

  4. M.A. says:

    As Scott Lemieux says, “It never ceases to amaze me that American pro-lifers think that the illogical construction and aribtrary enforcement of abortion statutes is an argument in their favor.

    Anyway, the point remains: affluent women will always get all the abortions they want; abortion bans do not save lives, do not change the culture, and are nothing but a way for the state to punish poor women.

  5. legion says:

    You’re only half-right. Some folks on the left, like Amanda at Pandagon, beat the drum loudly about how anti-abortion forces (or at least the hard-core religious right foundation of them) just want to punish women for having ‘teh sexy’. But there’s another, unspoken aspect.

    The other leg of anti-abortion revolves around the defintion of ‘life’, and that definition is always presented with a religious basis. In short, it’s also a chance for certain groups to force-feed their religion to everyone in the country, simply by making the laws reflect their religion’s rules…

  6. jerry says:

    Aren’t you guys for personal responsibility? Why shouldn’t women who have abortions be thrown in jail? It would go a long long way to reducing the demand side of the equation.

    Remember, doctor’s have a vow to do no harm. It is morally difficult for a doctor to not want to provide a safe way for a patient to have a procedure that patient seeks. The doctor’s side is only supply.

    I would think you would be better off to reduce demand of this immoral procedure and with the cult of personal responsibility, I would think that would entail throwing the women in jail.

    Personally, I would toss them in jail for 18 years and nine months.

  7. floyd says:

    legion; the rules should be set on the basis of your religion only? religion defined as “a set of strongly held personal beliefs”.so tell us; what are the primary tenets of your religion. you’re such an expert on what others believe, have you given thought to what you wish to force on society?

  8. salvage says:

    Whenever I read stuff like this I reminded of a stand up comedian who said “Y’know if it were men who got pregnant you’d be able to get abortions at every 7-11.”

    Women will still get abortions if it’s illegal because you can’t tell people what to do with their bodies, it’s that simple.

    Not as simple as “Further, there is no way for sexually active people to avoid getting pregnant. And who, aside from thousands of people on waiting lists for adoption, would want a baby, anyway?”

    But pretty close.

  9. Hal says:

    Yep, James. You finally have jumped the shark.

  10. Herb says:

    The entire issue of abortion is purely political. I don’t understand why people get all excited and worked up about outlawing abortion. All this abortion and those who say “a woman has a right to chose” is nothing more than a hot subject to gain a vote at the poles and the Democrats have made it their main “vote getting policy”. The sad part is that there are many thousands that want to wantonly kill human life in order to “have a little fun” in the bedroom. Have any of those who want to kill innocent life ever thought about ” forgoing that little bit of fun” and not having sex to begin with.. The answer is no, mainly because of the fun loving selfish and inconsiderate people who “want their cake and eat it to”.

    One can call those who want to sustain life as “backwoods bible thumping hillbillies” but, I ask you, are you for the “taking of innocent, helpless life” purely to “have a little fun” without taking responsibility for your own selfish actions.

  11. BillieBob says:

    Hey, Herb How many people have you met that have had abortions? I’ve known a few and let me tell you, Health issues in needing one are real, Most people don’t have an abortion out of a simple need for birth control. There is a real need for the procedure to be accessible to all income levels, there is a real threat to a woman’s right to control her own body. And if some one truly believes that an abortion is an “easy solution” for someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for their own, “selfish actions” that person doesn’t live in the real world and is making a politically and ideologically charged stance out of ignorance of the situations that the women who have abortions are in. In short folks, “Let him who is without sin. . . ” You get the picture

  12. just me says:

    Women will still get abortions if itâ??s illegal because you canâ??t tell people what to do with their bodies, itâ??s that simple.

    This isn’t really true. Since abortion was legalized, abortion rates have skyrocketed. The reality is that a lot of women choose abortion, because it is a legal option, if it wasn’t legal, they would choose something else. Also, just because somebody would do something illegally, that isn’t a good reason to make it legal. We prohibit murder and all sorts of levels of manslaughter, but we havent’ advocated legalizing it, because some people aren’t going to obey the law.

    Most people donâ??t have an abortion out of a simple need for birth control.

    Most people have abortions, because they don’t want to have babies, and most of the reasons they do not want to have babies, is because the baby would be inconvienient to them at that time. I would call that all but birth control. Very few abortions are because a woman’s health/life is at risk or she was raped-about 7% of abortions are for these reasons.

    So, feel free to link me to some stats that says the majority of women have abortions for health reasons, because I haven’t seen them, not even from AGI, and AGI is considered to be one of the more reliable sources of abortion stats (the CDC being the other one).

  13. Herb says:

    Hey BillieBob:

    I can see that you let one head overrule the other and have no control over either.

    If a man get a woman pregnant, then he should have the common decency, to accept the responsibility to provide for “his minute of Pleasure” and the woman should accept responsibility for her actions as well. Both are guilty of poor judgement and total disregard of human life if they, or one, chooses an abortion.

    I often wonder why one thinks that the taking of life is OK in one instance and not in any other.

  14. kiche says:

    I have a question, and you may not like it, but it is an honest question. If abortion is murder, then isn’t a woman who gets an abortion legally in the same position as someone who hires a hit man?

    A person who hires a hit man is considered a murderer under our laws (and rightfully so). In fact, a hired hit man often faces less jail time than the person who hired them.

    Legally, if abortion is murder, why shouldn’t women who get abortions be charged with murder?

  15. James Joyner says:

    kiche: I don’t disagree. It’s just not how we structured our laws pre-Roe and unlikely to be the way we’d do it in a post-Roe overturn era.

  16. Barry says:

    There’s an update at Lawyers, Guns and Monday

    To summarize, James is implying that the anti-abortion movement won’t take their laws seriously. That they’ll do the equivalent of strictly banning narcotics, but not going after users.