Glenda Xiomara Cruz, 10 years. Maria Teresa Rivera, 40 years. Christina Quintanilla, 30 years.
These were the prison sentences handed to three Salvadorian women as a result of their suffering a miscarriage during pregnancy. Each women was found guilty of aggravated murder, thus implying a large degree of intentionality on behalf of the mother, whether by their direct actions or the fact they did not do enough to save their baby’s life.
El Salvador is one of one of only five countries in the world, along with Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, that has a total ban on abortion. El Salvador, though, is notorious for the robust enforcement of it’s anti-abortion laws. Since 1998, the law has not accepted any exceptions, even in cases of rape. Between 2000 and 2011, over 200 women were reported to the police with 129 prosecuted and 49 convicted of either murder or abortion.
More recently, there was widespread condemnation of the Salvadorian High Court’s decision not to authorise an abortion for lupus sufferer, Beatriz (full name undisclosed for privacy reasons), despite the fact that her health was at serious risk and the foetus too deformed to be viable. The baby was born at 27 weeks and died within hours, with Beatriz suffering numerous health problems.
The premises on which these convictions are made are having multiple negative affects in Salvadorian society. With accusations often coming from hospital staff and their being an inbuilt “presumption of guilt” in the law, according to lawyer Dennis Munoz Estanley, there is both a growing awareness of injustice in the system and increasing number of women being forced to choose to suffer without care when the horrific experience of miscarriage befalls them.
A study by the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion into abortion in El Salvador highlights these injustices. It shows that, of the 200 women reported to the police since 2000, the vast majority were poor, unmarried and poorly educated. Moreover, not a single criminal case has come from the private sector despite the fact that thousands of abortions are believed to take place through this channel every year. In these cases, there have been convictions made on debatable evidence. As examples, Glenda Xiomara Cruz was convicted on the evidence of her ex-partner at whose hands she had suffered years of domestic abuse. Maria Teresa Rivera, who had no pregnancy symptoms before miscarrying, was convicted largely on the evidence that she told a co-worker she thought she might be pregnant a full 11 months before the miscarriage.
Sadly, women are tragically suffering as a result of these strict abortion laws. Directly, they are having to deal with the physical and emotional trauma of such events without professional care for fear of being reported to the police by those who should be helping them. Indirectly, other measures have started to be taken by those feeling trapped by this legislation. In 2011, suicide was the most common cause of death in 10 – 19 year old girls. Half of these girls were pregnant. Suicide was also the third most common cause of maternal mortality.
It is a case of your own viewpoint whether you agree or not with abortion but, in my opinion, the removal of choice for the woman can have serious direct and indirect affects on health, trust, and society as a whole.
Maybe take a second to hear Hilary Clinton’s poignant defence of reproductive rights: