Imagine living someplace where having a miscarriage could make you a criminal.
Pregnancy is supposed to be happy, but it's also scary. Sometimes it goes wrong.
Christina's miscarriage almost killed her.
She left the hospital heartbroken and in handcuffs. A few months later, she was in jail — sentenced for 30 years for "aggravated homicide." They accused her of an illegal abortion.
Tragically, Christina's case is not an isolated incident.
She was very lucky that a lawyer, Dennis Stanley Muñoz Rosa, happened upon her case and got her released after serving four of the 30 years to which she was sentenced. Other women in El Salvador are not that fortunate and are forced to serve sentences as long as 50 years for having their miscarriages classified as abortions.
In El Salvador, and four other countries, women who go to hospitals following a miscarriage are regularly reported to police for "suspected abortion."
Hundreds of women have been reported to the police since the Central American country passed its ban. Because their bodies are considered the scene of the crime, evidence-gathering procedures are traumatic and invasive. They occur while a woman is still recovering from her miscarriage.
According to the BBC, every case reported from 2000 to 2011 in El Salvador researched by Citizens Group for Decriminalization of Abortion came from public hospitals that serve people who can't afford to get higher quality care from expensive private hospitals. But these hospitals often fail to find compelling evidence that proves the woman intentionally ended her pregnancy.
"Not a single criminal case originated from the private health sector where thousands of abortions are believed to take place annually." — BBC
When Dennis Stanley Muñoz Rosa, the lawyer who took interest in Christina's case, was interviewed by the BBC and cited another case he was working on at the time: A hospital staff member testified that the woman in question "might have" been pregnant 11 whole months before she came to the hospital with severe pain and bleeding.
Activists in the country have hope that in the future, fewer women will be jailed for miscarriages.
Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez, a live-in domestic servant, became pregnant at 18 years old after being raped by her employer. After the home delivery of a stillborn baby she continued to bleed heavily and went to a public hospital. The hospital reported her to the police and she was convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Dennis Stanley Muñoz Rosa again was instrumental in highlighting the lack of evidence in her case and getting her released. Because the pardon specifically cited judicial error, local activists believe they can pry open this crack to get more women out of prison.
"The prosecution of these women is based on prejudice not proof and starts from a presumption of guilt; a presumption that because they are poor and uneducated, they killed their babies because they didn't want them and couldn't care for them. The evidence is that there is a dead baby, a woman and the forensic evidence establishes they are mother and child. That's it." — Muñoz Rosa in the Telegraph
El Salvador's high teenage pregnancy rate paired with its low rape reporting rate has some government officials worried.
The head of youth and adolescent development at El Salvador's health ministry has publicly stated that he believes the law and its aggressive enforcement is driving pregnant teenagers to suicide or dangerous "backstreet abortions."
Amnesty International, the United Nations, and several European countries are calling on El Salvador to end this practice.
Amnesty International published a shocking report of how damaging these law have been for Salvadoran women and girls.
One gynecologist, speaking to Amnesty International in early 2014, describedthe treatment received by pregnant girls:
“In the last six months, we had four cases of girls aged between 10 and 14 years old, whosebabies were forming without kidneys. [Such babies] die at birth. It wasn't just that they madethem carry the pregnancy to term, but also that when they explained to them that the babyhad this condition, they said it was the girl's fault for having got pregnant. It's outrageousbecause it's a congenital defect, it has nothing to do with what she's done… but that is whatthe doctors told them when they gave them the news." – Amnesty International report, p. 27