Reproduction is everyone’s business. At least that’s what politicians, order the church, the community, the executive, the man on the street and his dog would have you think. Despite conception, birth and child-rearing happening behind closed doors, and decisions made in families or by individuals, childbirth has become a matter for public opinion.
Take Rachida Dati: in 2009 the former French Minister for Justice was publicly vilified for resuming her parliamentary duties five days after giving birth. Yes, some praised her ‘dedication to her career’. Some claimed she was under pressure to come back, that her job was at risk. Everyone felt they knew best.
Abortion, and the autonomy a mother has over her unborn child, is one of the more controversial and nuanced parts of this debate. Depending on where you live, access to abortion ranges from entirely illegal to universally available (with restrictions on timescales) but usually comes with a strong dose of stigma, be it social or religious.
In some countries, this level of intervention is taking to the extreme. Last week, teenage rape victim Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz of El Salvador was convicted of for murder. El Salvador criminalised abortion in 1997 following pressure from catholic anti-choice groups, and in doing so stripped women of their reproductive rights. Even in situations where continuing a pregnancy might kill the woman, or where the foetus is not viable, it’s considered murder to abort.
Hernandez, who was raped by a gang member multiple times, did not know she was pregnant until she gave birth to a stillborn baby. The prosecution claimed that Hernandez actively avoided antenatal care because she didn’t want the baby, and the judge agreed, sentencing her to 30 years in prison.
Here are five things you need to know:
The judgement was based on bias: Questions existed around the decision making process of the judge were raised- saying it was based on morality, not law.
The evidence was non-existent: The prosecution were unable to determine whether the foetus died in utero or after birth, implying that the judge’s decision would have been the same even if the baby was stillborn.
El Salvador even treats miscarriage as a crime: Even when it comes to circumstances outside of the woman’s control, like miscarriages and stillbirths, the law intervenes and sees it as murder.
The stigma around rape: As well as reproductive rights being denied, these women – many from poor backgrounds- have no recourse for the (often repeated) rape they suffer.
This isn’t the first time: A campaign was launched in 2014 called Las 17 to bring justice to 17 other women in El Salvador imprisoned for miscarriages.
As the Change.org petition states, this ruling ‘sends a chilling message to all women about how our human rights and dignity are viewed as less valuable than our ability to give birth’. Add your signature here.
Written by Alice Leahy