Imprisoned for suffering a miscarriage?
From Sister Tiberia:
Those regular communicants to His Grace's blog will know this isn't the first time I've written on the subject of abortion here. I'm a Roman Catholic woman and I believe that life is sacred from conception to death. Today I'm looking at the other side of the coin: a country where the abortion laws are so stringent that a woman can be imprisoned for having a miscarriage.
El Salvador is a country where abortion is illegal in all circumstances. Prior to 1998, there were some limited circumstances where it was permitted - if there was danger of death to the woman and termination of the pregnancy was the only way to preserve her life; if the pregnancy was the result of rape; or if a serious congenital abnormality was found in the unborn baby. These exemptions were removed in 1998.
According to Wikipedia, the situation is now as follows:
On April 20, 1998 the new Penal Code was enacted, removing the exceptions that had been instituted in 1973, including the provision for the pregnant woman's life. Under this Code, a person who performs an abortion with the woman's consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for two to eight years. A person who performs an abortion to which the woman has not consented can be sentenced to four to ten years in jail; if the person is a physician, pharmacist, or other health care worker, he or she is instead subject to between six to 12 years.The results have been catastrophic. Unsafe abortion has become the second highest cause of maternal mortality in the country (and health care in general is poor because of the very limited funding available). If you can bear to, click on the Wikipedia article on abortion in El Salvador. It's heartbreaking reading.
An article in The Guardian on the El Salvador abortion controversy highlighted this situation several months ago. The BBC report quotes cases where women who suffered miscarriages were reported by medical staff to the authorities as having attempted abortions, and in one case a woman was imprisoned for eight years before being released on appeal. The predictable result is that women - especially poor women - are afraid to approach doctors if they fear they may be miscarrying because of the risk that they will be arrested and prosecuted.
An attempt was made to challenge the law with the assistance of Amnesty International - Voices from El Salvador - which ultimately resulted in failure.
The life of the woman involved was ultimately saved through a legal loophole. She was one of the lucky ones. Many more are not as lucky.
Esther Major, Amnesty International's El Salvador expert, describes the country's abortion law as "cruel and discriminatory": "Women and girls end up in prison for being unwilling, or simply tragically unable, to carry the pregnancy to term," she says."It makes seeking hospital treatment for complications during pregnancy, including a miscarriage, a dangerous lottery. It cannot be in the interests of society to criminalise women and girls in this way."
I'm a married woman. I have a child. In the years after my son was born, I suffered three consecutive miscarriages, all of them devastating, one of them life threatening. It was the most terrible time of my life, and the only thing that could possibly have made it worse would have been if I had been too afraid to seek medical help because of the possible consequences. That is the choice facing the women of El Salvador.