El Salvador, where women are jailed for miscarriages

Lilian was 20 when her newborn baby died of medical complications at a hospital in El Salvador, where abortion is a crime and even the suspicion of one can land a woman in jail.

Lilian was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after her infant daughter passed away at a public hospital in Santa Ana in the country’s west in November 2015.

“I gave birth naturally, but I had a tear in my uterus,” recounted Lilian, now 28, who declined to give her full name to protect her family.

She was sedated for a procedure to fix the tear, and when she awoke, “I knew my baby was dead.”

Her nightmare did not end there.

“I was first accused of abandonment and neglect, but the prosecution called it ‘aggravated homicide’ and I was convicted in May 2016,” she told AFP.

A report found Lilian’s baby had died of neonatal sepsis, yet she spent eight years behind bars for ‘aggravated homicide’

Last year, a medical report concluded that her baby had died of neonatal sepsis, a finding that resulted in Lilian’s early prison release in November with the aid of women’s rights NGOs.

By then, she had already served eight years behind bars.

“If she (the baby) had been treated in time, she would not have died. I wouldn’t have wasted so many years of my life in prison,” said Lilian, whose other daughter was just two when it happened and was raised by her grandparents.

“I only saw her twice, I did not see her grow up.”

Lilian is the last of 73 Salvadorans to be released from prison in the last decade under a campaign by rights groups to free women serving sentences of up to 50 years for abortions, miscarriages, or birthing complications.

In Latin America, elective abortion is legal in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba and Uruguay

Almost all are from poor backgrounds in rural areas where health services are precarious, said Arturo Castellanos, a social worker with the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.

Alba Lorena Rodriguez, now 36, became pregnant at 21 after an acquaintance raped her.

Five months pregnant, she went into premature labor at home.

“I had to give birth to him myself, I fainted, I dropped” the baby, she told AFP.

A neighbor called the police, and Rodriguez, who has two other daughters, was arrested at the infant’s funeral.

“I felt the world come crashing down on me, because I knew I wasn’t going to see the girls, and they were punishing me for something I hadn’t done,” she said.

“The one who raped me was on the outside with his family and I (was)… imprisoned. The law is unfair,” said Rodriguez, who said she had no defense lawyer and no chance for anything like a fair trial.

Rodriguez served 10 years of a 30-year sentence before she, too, was released.

Both women chose to talk to AFP in the capital San Salvador, far from their own villages where the punishment has not stopped.

When the jailed women leave prison, “the community discriminates against them and stigmatizes them,” Castellanos said.

Alba Lorena Rodriguez, now 36, became pregnant after she was raped by an acquaintance at the age of 21

In Latin America, elective abortion is legal in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba and Uruguay.

It is banned outright, without exceptions for health risks or other circumstances, in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Nowhere are the penalties as severe as in El Salvador, however.

Under the law there, abortion is punishable by two to eight years in prison. But the charge is often changed to “aggravated homicide,” which carries a penalty of 30 to 50 years.

Since 1998, when abortion was criminalized in El Salvador, 199 women have been sentenced.

Since Lilian’s release last year, none remain imprisoned, but seven women are awaiting trial, according to the Citizens’ Group.

“No one can give me back my lost time. I’m rebuilding the bond with my daughter,” said Lilian, who would like to see the law changed so that other women do not have to go through what she has.

But President Nayib Bukele, newly elected to a second five-year term with near-total control of parliament, has said there will be no change to abortion laws in the deeply Christian country.

“The struggle continues,” said Lilian.

Since abortion was criminalized in El Salvador in 1998, a total of 199 women have been sentenced

Leave a Reply