Life, Death, and Lies in the El Salvador Anencephaly Case

RH Reality Check is being transparently dishonest — one might even call it lying — in the case of Beatriz and Rachel, the El Salvadorean duo that’s been making headlines this week.  In other news, water is wet and Monday Night Football is on Monday, and yet we must keep reporting it.

For those who haven’t heard the good news out of El Salvador this week: despite a coordinated and determined campaign by the international abortion industry, featuring a level of dishonesty not seen since the Savita Halappanavar incident in Ireland last year, the nation (unlike Ireland), stood strong in insisting that, no, potential maternal health risks do not justify actually murdering a child.  El Salvadorean doctors then went ahead and did what the law — and basic human decency — demanded of them: they medically treated the maternal patient (known to the world only as “Beatriz,” because of El Salvador’s laws protecting her identity) and medically treated her anencephalic baby daughter (known to the world only as “Rachel,” the name usually given to anonymous female targets of abortion) in order to give both Beatriz and Rachel the best possible chance of survival.  By 26 weeks, the danger to Beatriz was increasing dramatically, while Rachel was developed enough that delivering her would not be a death sentence.  Beatriz requested, and doctors readily agreed to, a C-section.  Rachel was born on June 3, 2013.

Like most anencephalic babies, though, Rachel had a steep uphill battle to fight.  Even if she weren’t premature, the odds were stacked dramatically against her.  Unfortunately, Rachel didn’t win that battle.  Though placed in an incubator and given fluids, she died on either June 3rd or June 4th, five hours after being born.

Beatriz is currently recovering from her C-section; no complications have been reported.

So here we finally have a golden example of a pro-life legal and medical system in action.  Beatriz and Rachel were both treated like the human beings they both are.  A few humane options presented themselves, chiefly: carrying Rachel to term, at extreme risk to Beatriz; or taking the earliest possible C-section, at increased risk to Rachel.  Beatriz, a wife and mother of another child, knew that Rachel suffered from a condition that made her unlikely to survive in any event, and also recognized her own responsibilities to her family, so she decided to take the C-section.  Beatriz came through it okay.  Rachel experienced a brief but inviolate life outside her mother’s womb, and doctors did everything in their power to save her, despite the odds.  The only losers here were the taxpayers who have to pay the sizable medical bills — but I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t kill people just because giving them a fighting chance at life is expensive.

Pro-lifers have never demanded that the lives of unborn children be privileged over the lives of their mothers: all we have demanded is equality before the law.  No one is obliged to become — and not everyone should beGianna Molla.  Nor have we demanded that pregnant mothers be deprived of the power to choose their own destinies: all we have demanded is that no pregnant mother be encouraged, coerced, or permitted to directly and deliberately kill her own child as one of those “choices.”  The balancing of risks and responsibilities is a great burden and a great responsibility, which belongs only to the mother (and, at least to some extent, her husband, if she is married).  Equality before the law plus strong maternal decision-making is what we saw in this case, and so something happened that rarely occurs in the modern abortion wars (and never in the so-called “developed” countries): a tragic, but ultimately happy, ending.  It’s a model I hope one day to see implemented everywhere.

So, now that you’re all caught up on the Happenings in El Salvador, what of these misrepresentations I was telling you about?  The article that caught my attention was called “An Abortion By Any Other Name.”  By Jodi Jacobson (the editor-in-chief!), the article makes the ludicrous argument that Beatriz’s C-section was actually a form of abortion called a “hysterotomy,” and she’s able to find two abortionists willing to give her quotes to this effect.  The argument is pretty dumb, obviously, since an abortion is an attempt to bring a dead baby into the world, while an attempt to bring a live baby into the world (like this one) is called a delivery.

The mangled vocabulary is amusing, of course — a “hysterotomy” is simply an incision into the uterus, just as a “laporotomy” is an incision into the abdomen, and opening the womb is obviously a necessary component a C-section — and it serves to underline that abortionists are now trying to change the definitions of words even when it does not even make any sense or seem to gain them anything particular.  They just muddy the waters because the more confused they make the public, the less the public will realize that abortionists murder children.  Ms. Jacobsen seems to recognize this, and does not bother making much of an argument on this point; after making the insane but sufficiently vague suggestion that the El Salvadorean government was being somehow hypocritical in its decision, she spends the balance of the piece calling pro-lifers misogynistic for defending Rachel’s life (Ms. Jacobsen is apparently unaware that Rachel was a girl) and (her real agenda) insisting that the modestly increased risk to Beatriz from having a C-section rather than a D&E abortion justified the immediate killing and dismemberment of poor Rachel.  Personally, I am grateful that I am not Ms. Jacobsen’s conjoined twin, because I would always have to watch my back, but the article as a whole was the mostly-harmless reality-distorting nonsense RH Reality Check puts out every day.

But then Ms. Jacobsen started talking about Rachel, and she crossed a line from nonsense into dishonesty.  And it was dishonestly of the very worst sort: dishonesty designed to imply that another human being’s life was worthless.  Here she is:

Beatriz was carrying a fetus with no brain, and therefore it could not survive outside the womb under any circumstance… She was therefore pushed into the third trimester, with her health failing to “save” a fetus that could not be saved… A woman was brought to death’s door for the sake of ideology made only somewhat more grotesque by the fact that the fetus she was carrying could never have survived in the first place.

We’ll leave aside the allegation that Beatriz was brought “to death’s door,” which is a bit of hyperbole unsupported by anything officially known about her pregnancy.  What’s despicable here is the claim that Rachel was absolutely doomed — a totally non-viable fetus who could never become a viable fetus, much less a living baby, under any circumstances.  It is obvious why Rachel’s would-be killers would want that to be true: if the baby can’t survive anyway, people are much less likely to have moral qualms about deliberately killing her a few weeks ahead of schedule, so saying that Rachel “could not be saved” increased support for Beatriz’s abortion petition.

The fact that it is absolutely, verifiably, categorically, and obviously false to anyone not suffering from anencephaly themselves does not seem to have entered Ms. Jacobsen’s consideration.

I do not deny that babies diagnosed with anencephaly have a very, very difficult road ahead of them.  A great many do, in fact, fail to survive outside the womb, with about one-in-four dying within the first hour after birth.  The vast majority do not survive the first week of life ex utero, and even fewer see their first birthdays.  Like sufferers of Tay-Sachs disease and Cystic Fibrosis, even those anencephalics who survive the first year face dramatically shortened lifespans — few survive infancy, and none, to my knowledge, have reached adulthood.

But, aided by a lot of luck and a lot of love, anencephalic babies do survive outside the womb — unless Ms. Jacobsen is arguing that living independently for 20 months or even three years isn’t “surviving”.  Surviving with anencephaly is not an unheard-of miracle; it’s studied and anyone with access to Google can learn about it in less time than it takes to read this paragraph.  Here are a few studies:

McAbee G, Sherman J, Canas JA, Boxer H. Prolonged survival of two anencephalic infants.  American Journal of Perinatololgy. 1993 Mar;10(2):175-7.  Department of Neurology, Nassau County Medical Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook.

Baird PA, Sadovnick AD.  Survival in infants with anencephaly.  Clinical Pediatrics (Phila). 1984 May;23(5):268-71.

Jaquier M, Klein A, Boltshauser E. Spontaneous pregnancy outcome after prenatal diagnosis of anencephaly. BJOG 2006; 113:951–953. (NOTE: Full text at link)

In fact, about one-third of anencephalic babies survive their first day of life, and about 5%, or one-in-twenty, survive the first week.  No one is saying that three or four days after birth is a full life — but it is a life, and a meaningful one.  To pretend that the lives of the anencephalic don’t exist is not just a cheap political lie, not just a transparent attempt to return us to the old “life unworthy of life” insanity that plagued much of the New Deal era (on both sides of the Atlantic), but a cruel denial that those children, and their parents, undergo a profound and important experience during their unfairly shortened lives outside the womb.  For some of those stories, I invite anyone who’d like to spill some tears to spend just a few minutes at

So it’s a lie, and an obvious one, and obviously a lie of convenience.  Rachel’s fate was not written in stone, except in the fantasies of those who wanted to see her dead weeks ago.  But what else do we expect from those who make their livings from the klling of children?

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