In El Salvador an unexpected pregnancy loss has been declared unconstitutional and criminal. The law that has been in place since 1998 prohibits abortions in the country regardless of the situation. The penal code does no take into account if the mother’s life or the baby’s life is in danger; it is all abortion. The purpose of this law is to give the embryonic human a right to life. If any expectant mother happens to break this law regardless of the situation, she can be sentenced to 2-8 years in prison, and the medical professionals assisting the women can serve 6-12 years in prison. In some more severe cases, a woman can be charged with aggravated homicide if it is believed that the fetus could have been able to reach life successfully.
The law has led to the incarceration of thirty women to date. Out of the 129 women prosecuted for pregnancy loss from 2010-2011, more than half were reported to authorities by their own doctor’s clinics. This happens because doctors are afraid of being accused of assisting the women in having an abortion. Others believe that putting women in prison for suffering miscarriages is more of moral idea. In El Salvador many believe that a woman is “not a woman until she is a mother”. It is also believed that a woman must save their child no matter what. According to Abraham Abrego, who directs the Foundation for the Study and Application of Law, confusion in the law between miscarriages and abortions amounts to “a serious human-rights issue.”
Today, there are thousands of women in prison, some of these women serving up to 30 years in prison. The circumstances that these women live in while in prison are harsh. The prisons in El Salvador are overpopulated and there are many health issues. Now there are several groups in El Salvador raising awareness and taking action to reform the law.
In April 2015 the Los Angeles Times covered the story; otherwise US corporate media coverage has been minimal.
Margaret Knapke, “These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages,” Truthout, October 10, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33148-these-salvadoran-women-went-to-prison-for-suffering-miscarriages.
Matt Chandler, “In El Salvador, A Pregnancy Complication followed by a Prison Sentence,” Al Jazeera America, April 22, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/22/in-el-salvador-a-pregnancy-complication-followed-by-a-prison-sentence.html.
Student Researcher: Yovana Felix (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Celene Zendejas (Napa Valley College)