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”.