(The Guardian) El Salvador: meet the women who dare to challenge the anti-abortion stat
Claire Provost, San Salvador
El Salvador’s strict abortion laws mean a woman can be charged with homicide for suffering a miscarriage. But a high-profile case that drew global condemnation may prove a catalyst for change
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.
“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]?”
El Salvador has one of the world’s strictest abortion laws, 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.