As you may have read recently on this blog, Beatriz from El Salvador is 4.5 months pregnant and suffers from lupus and other medical conditions, including kidney disease related to lupus. She also suffered serious complications during her previous pregnancy, resulting in her being deemed at high-risk of maternal mortality should this pregnancy progress. Three scans of her fetus have confirmed it is anencephalic (lacking a large part of the brain and skull). Almost all babies with anencephaly die before birth or within a few hours or days after.
Protesters at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court of Justice in San Salvador. The sign reads, “If Beatriz were your daughter, would it be illegal to save her life?”(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Agrupación Ciudadana por la despenalización del aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugénesico).
Officially, El Salvador does not have capital punishment. The result will be the same, however, for “Beatriz,” a 22-year-old whose “crime” consists of needing an abortion to save her life. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador law under all circumstances, including rape, incest, and maternal health. Beatriz has a history of lupus, kidney problems, and other health conditions that her doctors have indicated place her at high-risk for pregnancy-related death. She is currently four and a half months pregnant. Preventing her from receiving an abortion is therefore comparable to a death sentence. This, in turn, will leave her one-year-old son motherless.
But surely, you may think, some Salvadoran doctor will ignore the law for the higher goal of saving this woman’s life. In November, I posted an account of another Salvadoran woman, “Mery,” who was turned in to the police by her own doctors after suffering complications from a clandestine abortion. While this may appear shocking to readers in the United States, Salvadoran law requires doctors to do so. “Beatriz” and her doctors have to worry that someone will turn them in if they proceed without explicit government authorization.
Check out our list of 10 absurd arrests and sentences of the year. You might be surprised to learn what can get you thrown in jail in a few places around the world, and how harsh the sentences are once you’re there.
Bears being dropped. Photo via Studio Total
1. Posting photos of teddy bears.
Anton Suryapin of Belarus spent more than a month in detention after posting photos of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane. The bears were part of a stunt by a Swedish advertising company calling for freedom of expression in Belarus. Anton is charged of “organizing illegal migration” simply because he was the first upload photos of the teddy bears, and still faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Ireland is not the only nation with strict abortion laws that cost women their lives.
Since 1998, El Salvador has had a total ban on abortions, under any circumstances. In March of this year, Salvadoran police arrested a woman (“Mery”) when she sought medical treatment after a clandestine abortion. The medical providers reported her to the police—as required by law. In addition to the physical complications associated with the abortion, she showed clear signs of emotional distress and panic.
Instead of providing “Mery” with counseling, the authorities sentenced her to two years in El Salvador’s violent, overcrowded prison system. Her emotional state deteriorated and she tried to kill herself in September 2012. Prison authorities responded by handcuffing “Mery” to a bed in a psychiatric hospital and placing an armed guard in her room. Amnesty is especially concerned because she has been cut off from both the psychological help she needs as well as legal counsel.
Turkish feminists protest outside Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's office in Istanbul on May 27, 2012. BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages
By Howard Eissenstat, Turkey Country Specialist
I guess Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, wanted to change the subject.
In May, Turkey’s ruling AK Party was busily trying to explain away its culpability in the massacre of civilians in the Roboski/Uludere airstrike by implying that, since the victims were smugglers, they may have simply gotten what they deserved. Even the largely cowed Turkish press sensed that the government had staked out a position so outlandish that it was only embarrassing itself.
Then with characteristic bravado, Erdoğan connected the massacre of Kurdish villagers to women’s reproductive health. “Every abortion is an Uludere,” he said to one delegation of supporters. Suddenly women’s reproductive health has become the major issue of the day, not the massacre of civilians by Turkish armed forces. As Andrew Finkel notes in his sharp analysis, “With that single stroke he maneuvered a Turkish woman’s right to choose into a place it had never been: at the center of the political agenda. This is a mistake that may have tragic consequences.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Since July 2008, abortion in all circumstances has been banned in Nicaragua. The new law makes no exceptions for terminating pregnancies that endanger the health or life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest. Girls or women seeking or obtaining abortions are subject to imprisonment. Health care professionals providing abortions — or even unintentionally injuring a fetus — face jail time and being barred from practice.
A new Amnesty International report, The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua, details the effects of the new measures. Medical professionals are put in an impossible situation: they’re prevented, on pain of criminal prosecution, from providing essential medical services — in direct contradiction of best-practice guidelines from the Ministry of Health. Women who need abortions to preserve their health — or lives — have to find doctors willing to risk prosecution and suspension of their license, or seek out dangerous back-alley terminations.
The ban has a chilling effect, too, on women suffering obstetric complications: one woman admitted to a hospital following a miscarriage was so frightened that she would be charged with having an abortion that she asked doctors not to intervene. The rate of maternal deaths in Nicaragua has increased: Official figures show that 33 girls and women have died in pregnancy or childbirth so far this year, up from 20 in the same period a year ago.
Finally, girls and women who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence must either carry the pregnancy to term, or look for risky, clandestine abortions. Our researchers spoke with women, raped by relatives, who were forced to give birth — sometimes to their own brothers or sisters. In every case, it’s low-income women who are hit hardest — richer Nicaraguans are able to travel abroad to escape the ban.