At least 52 nurses from the maternity ward at the Hospital Universitario in San Juan announced this week they would no longer assist at abortion procedures there because of disagreements over the macabre methods that are used.
The newspaper El Visitante published an interview with a spokeswoman for the nurses, who said they decided to oppose the procedures after the hospital issued its “Protocol for Terminating Pregnancies,” which outlines methods for performing abortion.
The Hospital Universitario provides services to patients with multiple traumas or conditions that cannot be treated at other facilities and functions with public monies, and although abortion is not illegal, the US Supreme Court has ruled that states—including US territories—are not required to “enter into the business of abortion” and that there is no right to government assistance for abortion.
The spokeswoman for the nurses pointed out that nonetheless the number of abortions at the publicly funded Hospital Universitario has increased and that an estimated one hundred babies have been killed there in the last two years.
“Two or three years ago there were very few cases. We were told that the patient had already initiated an abortion before arriving at the hospital. Later we discovered that was not the case and that they were being admitted to have an abortion,” she said.
The hospital’s Protocol on abortion procedures includes a list of “feticides” that can be used to kill the baby in utero beyond the fourth month of pregnancy. One of the more common methods is the administration of the drug Cytotec, which provokes contractions and the expulsion of the baby. “Do you know what it’s like to see the baby moving his little feet and hands and not to be able to do anything?” the nurse said. She said because the babies are still underdeveloped they cannot survive outside the womb, and they are often left exposed until they die of asphyxiation.
Another practice used at the hospital is the injection of the drug Digoxin into the heart of the unborn baby, to cause death through cardiac arrest. The baby is then suctioned out of the womb. While hospital procedures say this method should be used for abortions at 18 weeks or less, the nurse spokesman said they have seen the method used on women who are 26 weeks or six months pregnant.
The list of feticides also includes potassium chloride, a drug commonly used in the lethal injection of death row prisoners and for euthanizing pets. The solution causes cardiac arrest, but death penalty opponents have pointed out that because it causes severe pain veterinarians are required to sedate animals before administering it.
The nurse spokesman said many abortions are performed because of “health reasons” or because of rape or incest. “Sometimes we talk to these women and they tell us that in reality they were not raped, but rather they had problems with the child’s father and could not have the baby now,” she said.
She said most of the doctors at the hospital also do not agree with the policies, and that the hospital has plans to hire other doctors and nurses who will carry out the abortions. The new personnel, she added, “would be paid with public funds.”