In El Salvador, women are locked away in prison for years, taking them away from children and families in dire need of their support, for having miscarriages.
PBS aired a story Tuesday on the program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly about the victims of El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws — women who have miscarriages, even without knowing they are pregnant, and are then jailed for homicide.
El Salvador’s bottom-line abortion laws have rendered all instances of abortion illegal since 1997, even in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life.
Cristina Quintanilla was 18 and close to term when she suffered a miscarriage.
“I was dizzy because of the anesthesia and blood loss, and I saw a man wearing blue asking for my name,” Quintanilla said, describing her emergency trip to the hospital. “He said, ‘You’re under arrest for the murder of your child.’”
Quintanilla was convicted of aggravated homicide and received a 30-year prison term. She was released after four years.
“If you go to prison for an abortion, they beat you up,” she said. “And it’s not just me. There are other women in there.”
In October, BBC published a report on women charged with murder by Salvadorian courts, under the guise that they could have saved the fetus.
Glenda Xiomara Cruz, 19, didn’t even know she was pregnant when she had a miscarriage. She had experienced no weight gain or change in menstruation, and a pregnancy test from five months earlier had been negative.
A victim of ongoing domestic violence, Cruz spent three weeks in the hospital following two emergency operations, all results of the miscarriage. Too ill to appear in court, the judge sentenced Cruz to 10 years in prison, claiming she could have saved the child.
The hospital reported her to police for suspected abortion.
“She is yet another innocent victim of our unjust and discriminatory legal system which jails poor, young women who suffer obstetric complications for murder on the most flimsy evidence,” said Cruz’s lawyer, Dennis Munoz Estanley.
El Salvador’s abortion laws gained global attention this June with the Beatriz case, in which a woman who suffered from lupus and a kidney condition was ordered to carry out her pregnancy, despite the fact that fetus was deformed and could not live outside the womb. A doctor performed a C-section when Beatriz was seven months pregnant, and the baby died within hours.
As The New York Times reported, the outcome of Beatriz’s case was “largely a battle over words,” with doctors insisting that the procedure had not been an abortion, as they had attempted to save the infant’s life.
PBS News Hour correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro said that while not all Salvadorians oppose abortions, elections will be held next year, making any change to the current legislation “doubtful” in the coming months.