A police officer, not a doctor, by her bed

In El Salvador, a nightmare I can’t even read about without quaking with fury.

Cristina Quintanilla was 18 years old in October 2004 when, seven months pregnant with her second child, she collapsed in pain on the floor of her family home. “I felt like I was choking, like I couldn’t breathe,” she says, shaking at the memory.

Quintanilla, who lives in San Miguel, El Salvador, fell unconscious and, bleeding heavily, was taken to hospital by her mother. When she woke up, dizzy from blood loss and anaesthetic, and having lost her child, she says she was startled to find a police officer, not a doctor, by her bed.

Because she’s a woman and she had a miscarriage, so OBVIOUSLY she committed a crime.

“It was strange because doctors wear white but he was wearing blue … He said, ‘From this moment on, you are under arrest.’ This confused me even more.”

Quintanilla says she was interrogated while still under the effect of anaesthetic, handcuffed and brought from hospital to a cell in a police jail, accused of having killed ker child. Within 10 months, she was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. “It was another huge tragedy in my life. I had a son, who was three years old. How could I ever be with my child, with my family, with a sentence [like this]?”

See? That’s why I can’t read it and stay calm. THIRTY YEARS IN PRISON FOR HAVING A MISCARRIAGE.

El Salvador has one of the world’s strictest abortionlaws, with abortion a crime even when a woman’s life is at risk. Human rights activists say this has created a system of persecution in the country’s hospitals as well as its courts, where any woman – and particularly a poor, young woman who loses her baby – is suspect.

Dozens of women like Quintanilla have reportedly been prosecuted and imprisoned on homicide charges after suffering miscarriages, stillbirths, or obstetric emergencies away from medical attention.

Because when in doubt, persecute a woman.

According to the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion), 129 women were prosecuted for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador between 2000 and 2011, with 49 convicted (23 for abortion, 26 for homicide).

In a report published with the Centre for Reproductive Rights, the Agrupación says: “Enforcement of the country’s abortion law has had serious consequences in hospitals and healthcare centres, where any woman who comes to an emergency room haemorrhaging is presumed to be a criminal.”

In many of the cases documented, health workers had reported women to the police.

As if miscarriage simply didn’t exist!

High-profile backers of El Salvador’s abortion ban include senior figures in the Catholic church, National Republic Alliance party and the influential lobby group Sí a la Vida (Yes to Life).

While Beatriz’s case was being debated, José Luis Escobar, archbishop of San Salvador, reportedly suggested it would be inhuman and “against nature” for her to have an abortion, saying: “Sure, [Beatriz] has health problems, but she’s not in grave danger of death. Since we need to consider both lives we need to ask, whose life is in greater danger. We think that the foetus is in greater danger.”

How I wish there were a technology that could make some archbishops and cardinals pregnant against their will. How.I.wish.


  1. Jean says

    Instead of doing all his PR stunts and canonizing 2 ex popes, that’s the type of things the new pope should tackle. But he won’t, of course.

  2. dmcclean says

    Before this actually happens a few times, I could see someone saying that opponents were making up implausible scenarios and that when the (coercive, abusive) law I supported was administered by good upstanding members of my tribe that nothing bad would actually happen; that life would go on as before but with god a bit happier and a few more sluts having to suffer for their sluttiness, so win-win.

    Now that it’s happened (big surprise there…) and documented, what kind of mental gymnastics do these people have to do?

    If you ask the bishops about one of these cases do they just double-down and insist that the woman was duplicitous and just trying to hide her (putatively) evil abortionist ways? Saying that about a mother you are imprisoning away from her three year old must seem a little implausible even to a bishop, I would think.

    Do they go with “yes, mistakes will be made, but on balance this is more equitable and surely the law shouldn’t ignore the second life entirely as it does in those damn materialist countries, blah blah blah”?

    I don’t get the impression from the statements that they realize this is a totally inhumane policy and just need to save face (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it got to that point one day). So what the fuck?

    Some moral leadership, this is. I sure am glad we have god here to teach us how to behave, because otherwise we would be savages.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    Don’t women realize that a miscarriage is, technically, “spontaneous abortion”? Yes, it is, ladies. Another term for it is “God-caused abortion.” But that means YOU’RE GUILTY!! It really makes no difference WHO is causing the abortion, you freakin’ criminal BABY KILLERS!!

    THIS is why Christianity has to go. THIS is why Islam has to go. These are not benign relics of times past or comforting rituals of benevolence. These are savage, cruel, vicious, hateful belief systems THAT ACTIVELY HARM PEOPLE!!

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    “Sure, [Beatriz] has health problems, but she’s not in grave danger of death. Since we need to consider both lives we need to ask, whose life is in greater danger. We think that the foetus is in greater danger.”

    Didn’t her body expel the “foetus” of its own accord??

  5. iknklast says

    As if miscarriage simply didn’t exist!

    I wonder if they have the same thing there that I saw here when I worked in insurance: the doctors would often refer to miscarriage as “spontaneous abortion” – the medical term for a miscarriage. Some of the fundies I worked with would frown and be disgusted when they saw this, apparently missing the meaning of the word spontaneous. If they could have, they would have refused to pay the claims, but since the insurance policy paid for intentional abortions as well as spontaneous ones, there was absolutely no grounds for denying the claim!

    But they did a lot of slut-shaming of women who had miscarried, and if they could have, they would have sent police over to their house to incarcerate them. Even in Oklahoma, this wasn’t an option (in the 1980s, at least. I’m not sure how much longer that will hold…)

  6. rq says

    I can’t even… she’s eighteen, has a three-year-old child depending on her, and throwing her in jail for suffering through a medical emergency for 30 years is going to build a better society?? Fuck that shit.
    It’s true, though, that they only care about the fetus and not about the child/person that eventually comes out, otherwise they’d consider already-extant children in their decision-making, and the impact it has on families to separate them like this for no good reason.
    Pro-family and pro-life? Fuck that shit.

  7. sailor1031 says

    Last year the US government asked el Salvador’s government to change their law regarding abortion and miscarriage – so that’s alright then. No worries eh?

  8. says

    Make them pregnant against their will?

    I’d settle for giving them something that creates a hugely frightening health event for which they have to be rushed to the hospital, afraid they might be dying, after which they are arrested for having had a hugely frightening health event.

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