Miscarriage of Justice for Women in El Salvador
Imagine you’re a mother of two children and about 11 weeks pregnant with your third. A sharp pain suddenly shoots through your back and abdomen. You notice blood……lots of it, and large clots coming from your vagina, soaking your undergarment and running down your legs, starting to puddle on the floor. The pain is tearing and intense, becoming unbearable. You start to feel nauseous, cold and clammy, dizzy……you cry out weakly for help before you crumple to the floor, unconscious. You regain consciousness in a hospital room, in a bed with an IV dripping, oxygen cannula on your face and several wires running between you and some monitoring equipment. Your head hurts, a pounding pain and a tightness with a vague sensation of hair being pulled. Something foreign is stuck to the right side of your head and your moth is extremely dry. You’re very groggy and without really thinking about it you attempt to bring your right hand up to the side of your head. You hear a metallic clanking sound and feel something digging into your wrist. Something unyielding is preventing your hand from lifting more than a few inches. You try to free your hand but the harder you try the more it hurts your wrist. The fog is beginning to clear, just a bit, and you notice a metal bracelet around your right wrist that’s attached to a chain. The chain looks to be locked to the frame of the bed you’re lying in. All is still confusion and pain and a struggle to comprehend. Are you conscious or is this a bad dream? Where are your kids? Where are you? How did you get here? Why are you here? You start to vaguely recall the events before you passed out. You remember the agonizing pain and all the blood. You remember the floor rushing up and the impact, the blinding flash and white hot pain before you blacked out. Slowly, you manage to focus your thoughts and understanding begins to dawn. Your baby, your pregnancy, you’re near the end of the first trimester…….and then it hits you…...you must’ve had a miscarriage. You feel a deep and intense sadness start to blot out everything else. You start to sob quietly at first and then more vigorously until you’re racked with uncontrollable spasms of sheer anguish. A nurse comes into the room. She tries to comfort you, tells you everything will be all right. She confirms your worst fears…...and tells you you’ve lost a lot of blood. She says you’re going to be fine. One of your neighbors heard your kids screaming for help and found you passed out on the floor in a pool of blood. The neighbor called the ambulance and thank God they got you here before it was too late. You must have hit your head when you passed out and you may have a concussion. You start to regain your composure and the nurse gives you some cool water. A man in uniform enters the room. You are vaguely aware the uniform is that of a police officer. Then the man is standing next to your bed. He’s looking down at you with a look that’s anything but sympathetic. You’re not sure why but you get a sense of his disgust or distaste, a sense you are somehow guilty. The officer asks you if you would like to tell him where you got the pills you took to abort your baby. He tells you things will go a lot easier for you if you cooperate with him. Your still sluggish, your mind is racing. What pills is he talking about? You know you didn’t take any pills except some pre-natal supplements. The cop seems very impatient and he’s very stern. He tells you they already know about the pills because your neighbor told them. She told them you had asked her about pills to end your pregnancy. He tells you it was Yolanda that reported you. Yolanda’s your neighbor and a good friend. You watch her boys for her sometimes and her younger son is in the same class as your son. You try to grasp the meaning of what’s being said. It’s as though you’re being accused of something but you can’t wrap your mind around it. Why would Yolanda tell the police you took pills to have an abortion? You remember sitting out on Yolanda’s front porch one afternoon, a few days after you found out you were pregnant. You remember telling her about your second pregnancy, how difficult it was. You told her about the pain and the bleeding and how the doctor had told you it was a minor miracle you made it to full term and delivered a healthy 7 ½ pound baby boy. You told her about the depression you went through after your son was born and how you had had terrible thoughts sometimes. You told her what a hard time you were already having financially with just the two children and how your husband’s hours got cut back at his job. You recall asking Yolanda if she knew anything about people taking pills to terminate a pregnancy. It was just a passing thought, not something you could ever see yourself acting on. You were just so worried about going through another difficult pregnancy and the chances of having another happy outcome in spite of everything that happened the last time. You were afraid of putting even more pressure on your husband to make more money. Still, you had dismissed all thoughts of ending the pregnancy almost as soon as you had them. You knew it was the kind of decision that’s not reversible and one you could never live with. So your lying there trying to understand why this cop is treating you so harshly, why he’s looking at you like you’re a piece of shit. You remember the bracelet around your wrist that’s chained to the bed. You try to raise your right hand again with the same result as before. The cop must have noticed the puzzled look on your face as your looking at the handcuff on your wrist. It’s then he tells you that you are under arrest for suspected murder. He tells you since you refuse to cooperate you will probably get the maximum 40-year sentence when you are convicted. He tells you he’ll give you one last chance to tell him where you got the pills and if you do……you might be fortunate enough to get off with a lighter sentence of only 10 to 12 years in prison. You close your eyes. You keep them closed and you start to pray. You pray to yourself, silently. You pray this isn’t actually happening, it’s a very, very bad nightmare. You pray that when you open your eyes again you’ll be home with your kids and your husband and everything will be normal with everyone happy and contented. You keep praying and praying, in your mind, because you think that somehow, refusing to accept this reality will make it go away. You simply don’t dare open your eyes again for fear that cop is still standing there, judging you, condemning you, taking your family away from you along with your freedom and any possibility of anything but a life filled with misery, guilt and profound loss.
The preceding scenario is not real. It didn’t actually happen but it could have. Similar scenarios are playing out in El Salvador and other countries. Countries that base laws upon religious dogma, particularly that of the Catholic church. Having an abortion in some countries is still considered murder, regardless of rape, incest or peril to the mother. Women who have spontaneous abortions (a miscarriage) are often treated with suspicion and under certain circumstances may be brought up on murder charges. Hundreds of women currently languish in squalid, overcrowded prisons for years or even decades. Their crime……voluntarily seeking to end a pregnancy for any number of valid and compelling reasons or…….in some cases, having a spontaneous abortion through no fault of their own. Even more tragically, since people with enough money can leave the country for an abortion or go to a private hospital if they have a miscarriage (private hospitals are much less likely to file a police report than public) the law disproportionally affects the poor. Those already struggling to barely scrape by and who’s families will be most devastated by the loss of an income earner or a caregiver.
This is nothing short of religious fanaticism and yet another glaring example of how religion can destroy innocent lives. Not just the lives of the accused but of those who love and need them.
Pope Francis has given priests the authority to absolve women who have had an abortion. They no longer need be excommunicated, kicked out of the Catholic church. If the Pope and the church can forgive them why can’t governments? It occurs to me the Pope could do more to end this senseless suffering of innocent women and destruction of their families. Since draconian anti-abortion laws are based upon Catholic dogma, it would seem that the Pope’s strong opposition to such laws would carry a lot of weight.
Why doesn’t Pope Francis come out with a statement that he, and therefore the Catholic church, no longer believe women should be imprisoned for having an abortion, involuntarily or otherwise? Why doesn’t the Pope strongly condemn governments that destroy lives for no good reason? Why does he stand idly by when so much suffering and hopelessness could be easily ended? How many governments with severe, antiquated anti-abortion laws based upon Catholic dogma or Papal edicts would keep those laws on the books if the leader of the Catholic church officially stated such laws are flawed, unjust and sinful? I say we should find out!
Join with me in urging Pope Francis to correct this tragic injustice by demanding, in the name of the Catholic church, that all women imprisoned for violation of anti-abortion laws be released immediately!
Published by Bill Hoover