Slippery slope

A glimpse at what happens when women are punished for having abortions

(REUTERS/Alex Lee)

Earlier this week, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sent a tsunami through the 2016 presidential election when he said during an MSNBC town hall forum that if abortion were to become illegal, women who have abortions deserve “some form of punishment” in response. Trump quickly revised his position, saying only doctors who perform abortions would be subject to punishment — not women. Still the remarks came under heavy fire, and even if he did reverse his position, it’s worth taking a look at what the consequences of punishing women for having abortions could look like. Unfortunately, there are countries, even in 2016, that punish women for having abortions, and they stand as a grim example of how unforgiving interpretations of the law can be — and how wide a negative impact such laws can have on women and women’s health.

Take El Salvador, for instance. The country has a total ban on abortions and some women who don’t even abort their pregnancies end up being punished due to strict interpretations of the Draconian law. Women who have suffered spontaneous miscarriages or other types of obstetric emergencies have sometimes been prosecuted on suspicion of having attempted an illegal abortion. “If they cannot prove that it was a natural miscarriage, they are under suspicion of having had an abortion and they risk prosecution by the government,” Paula Avila-Guillen, a lawyer and program specialist for the Center for Reproductive Rights in El Salvador, told PRI.

Avila-Guillen went on to recount the frightening story of Cristina Quintanilla, a 17-year-old girl who was punished with a 30-year sentence after being found guilty of infanticide. Quintanilla, a mother of one who was expecting her second child, fell ill and her parents rushed her to the hospital. But instead of finding strictly medical care at the hospital, she was met with accusations of having attempted an abortion. Avila-Guillen said Quintanilla went straight “from the hospital to the prison,” and added, “She didn’t even understand what was happening. She didn’t even completely comprehend why she would even need a lawyer.”

And that’s just a fraction of what happens when women are punished for having abortions.

Read the full story at PRI.

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