El Salvador: Where Women May Be Jailed for Miscarrying
Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder - intentionally murdering the 38-to-42 week foetus - at a court hearing she was too sick to attend. The hospital had reported her to the police for a suspected abortion.
After two emergency operations and three weeks in hospital she was moved to Ilopango women’s prison on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador. Then last month she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the judge ruling that she should have saved the baby’s life.
Her lawyer, Dennis Munoz Estanley, says the legal system has an inbuilt “presumption of guilt” making it hard for women to prove their innocence.
“She is yet another innocent victim of our unjust and discriminatory legal system which jails poor, young women who suffer obstetric complications for murder on the most flimsy evidence,” he says.
Xiomara’s father describes the conviction as a “terrible injustice”.
He testified in court that his daughter had endured years of domestic violence at the hands of her partner. And yet the prosecution - which sought a 50-year jail term - relied heavily on this man’s allegation that she had intentionally killed the foetus.
Xiomara has not seen her four-year-old daughter since the miscarriage.
El Salvador is one of five countries with a total ban on abortion, along with Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and Dominican Republic. Since 1998, the law has allowed no exceptions - even if a woman is raped, her life is at risk or the foetus is severely deformed.
More than 200 women were reported to the police between 2000 and 2011, of whom 129 were prosecuted and 49 convicted - 26 for murder (with sentences of 12 to 35 years) and 23 for abortion, according to research by Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. Seven more have been convicted since 2012.
The study underlines that these women are overwhelmingly poor, unmarried and poorly educated - and they are usually denounced by public hospital staff. Not a single criminal case originated from the private health sector where thousands of abortions are believed to take place annually.