El Salvador: Wrongful imprisonment of women who had a miscarriage

October 21, 2015


Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the wrongful imprisonment of Salvadoran women who miscarry. At the hearing, reproductive rights advocates testified in Washington, USA, about the human rights violations women in El Salvador suffer due to the country’s severe abortion ban. This law has led to many women with pregnancy complications being arrested on suspicion of an abortion and later imprisoned for years on charges of homicide.

Criminalization of abortion

For more than 16 years, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances – even when necessary to save a woman’s life – imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. The ban has resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages, who are then charged for having an abortion and wrongfully convicted of homicide. One of these women, Cristina Quintanilla, testified at the hearing, along with representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Agrupación Ciudadana.

Cristina Quintanilla was pregnant for a second time in 2004. Eight months into her pregnancy she suffered a miscarriage in her home. After being rushed to the hospital for emergency medical care, an officer questioned her and later arrested her on suspicion of having an illegal abortion. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges of aggravated homicide in 2005. Quintanilla was released in 2008 after a judge determined there were violations of due process in her case. There are still 15 Salvadoran women in jail on similar charges.

Fear of criminal prosecution

The Center for Reproductive Rights (USA) has called on the Inter-American Commission “to hold El Salvador accountable for the gross violations of the human rights of Cristina and every Salvadoran women who has been wrongfully imprisoned,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO said. “For too long, El Salvador has ignored the human toll its total ban on abortion has had on countless women and their families – forcing pregnant women who miscarry to fear criminal prosecution when they seek emergency medical services.”

Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban, and includes the personal stories of five women who were unfairly prosecuted for illegal abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies without receiving medical attention. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.

Download the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion (2014)