Women are being jailed for having a miscarriage.

This image is not of Glenda Xiomara Cruz. It is included for illustrative purposes.

Miscarriages can be – and frequently are – incredibly traumatic. Women who lose their children before they are even born can feel depressed, guilty and untold levels of grief.

And yet in El Salvador, a woman can be jailed for miscarrying.

That’s right. Jailed for going through what can be a deeply upsetting experience. Jailed for something her body has absolutely no control of.

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America.

It has a complete ban on abortion, and since 1998 the law has allowed absolutely no exceptions. This includes a ban on abortion in cases of rape, if the foetus is severely deformed, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

The law is enforced so fiercely that young women whose bodies naturally miscarry are often accused of having deliberately caused their body to abort the pregnancy.

They’re being punished, even jailed, for miscarrying.

The BBC reported on the case of 19-year-old Glenda Xiomara Cruz earlier this month. She visited the public hospital near her El Salvador home in 2012 when she was “crippled by abdominal pain and heavy bleeding”.

When Xiomara found out at the hospital she had been pregnant, she was shocked. The BBC wrote:

It was the first she knew about the pregnancy as her menstrual cycle was unbroken, her weight practically unchanged, and a pregnancy test in May 2012 had been negative.

Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder – intentionally murdering the 38-to-42 week foetus – at a court hearing she was too sick to attend. The hospital had reported her to the police for a suspected abortion.

After two emergency operations and three weeks in hospital she was moved to Ilopango women’s prison on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador. Then last month she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the judge ruling that she should have saved the baby’s life.

Xiomara has another child – a four-year-old daughter – who she has not been allowed to see since the miscarriage.

Xiomara’s father called it a “terrible injustice”. Her lawyer said it was hard for women to prove their innocence, because the legal system was built upon a “presumption of guilt”.


“She is yet another innocent victim of our unjust and discriminatory legal system which jails poor, young women who suffer obstetric complications for murder on the most flimsy evidence,” her lawyer, Dennis Munoz Estanley, said.

The injustice is only further compounded by the fact that Xiomara had suffered domestic violence at the hands of her partner – and father of the unborn child – for many years. And yet the prosecution in the case against her – who were seeking a 50-year jail term – heavily relied upon her partner’s allegation that she had deliberately sought an abortion.

Xiomara isn’t the only woman to have been prosecuted. This from the BBC:

More than 200 women were reported to the police between 2000 and 2011, of whom 129 were prosecuted and 49 convicted – 26 for murder (with sentences of 12 to 35 years) and 23 for abortion, according to research by Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. Seven more have been convicted since 2012.

Estanley thinks these women were victims of an unjust legal system.

Estanley, the defence attorney who defends these women has fought 49 similar cases in the past two years. He claims that of the 29 convictions that were recorded, 28 of them were against women who had actually miscarried and not obtained an abortion.

He says his clients, many of whom are now in jail, are victims of an unjust and unfair system,

The fact that El Salvador’s abortion laws are so strict has an additional, worrying consequence.

Some women in the process of miscarrying are now reluctant to visit a public hospital or seek medical care – because they fear the reaction of the authorities, and don’t want to find themselves being accused of murder.

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