In March 2014, Belén (not her real name), 25, was taken by her mother to the Nicolás Avellaneda Hospital in Tucumán, Argentina. I had a stomach ache and didn’t know I was pregnant.
At the medical center, she had a miscarriage. Fearing that she would be punished, the doctor who treated her lodged a complaint with the police, saying that the woman had performed the abortion alone.
Belén was sentenced to eight years in prison, a much higher sentence than expected before the legalization of the practice was approved by Argentina’s Congress at the end of December. Until then, anyone who carried out the procedure outside the exceptions provided for by law could be sentenced to terms of 1 to 4 years imprisonment.
It turns out that Belén was not accused by the prosecution of having an illegally abortion, but of the crime of “homicide aggravated by bail” – for which the sentence could be much heavier.
After being treated in hospital handcuffed to the bed, Belén went straight to a penitentiary, where she spent 29 months. Her case, however, ended up gaining national visibility thanks to a campaign led by feminist groups. Lawyer Soledad Deza stood up for him and got the criminal review – Belén was released from prison in 2017.
The following year, Liliana (not her real name) died, aged 40, serving a life sentence in San Martín Penitentiary in Buenos Aires, for losing a pregnancy at five months. The charge was the same as Belén’s: homicide aggravated by bond.
“We started to map the criminalization of abortion with the idea of working for the liberation of women, especially those who were imprisoned for miscarriages, but we didn’t find many recorded cases like this. Until the Belén case opened our eyes: we had to look in another way, ”lawyer Gloria Orrego-Hoyos told Folha.
She is a professor at the Universidad de San Andrés and co-author of the book “Dicen que Tuve un Bebe” (they say I had a baby, ed. Siglo 21), which brings together seven stories of women convicted or prosecuted for having terminated a pregnancy or having had a miscarriage.
“The judicial world is still very macho in Argentina. Conservative judges knew that abortion sentences, in addition to being lighter, could be revised if a law decriminalized the procedure. Then they started to prosecute these women with legal figures which provide for harsher sentences such as homicide aggravated by bail or abandonment of someone, ”he said.
According to an investigation carried out by Cels (Center for Legal and Social Studies), Argentina’s main human rights NGO, 1,538 women are being prosecuted for having undergone clandestine abortions or after having undergone spontaneous abortions.
Only 63 of them have been officially charged with having had an abortion. The others all answer for the crime of homicide aggravated by the bond or abandonment of a person.
In the prison are 30 women, some of whom are sentenced to life imprisonment, as is the case of a 34-year-old girl arrested in the province of San Juan. Or Rosalia Reyes, in Bahía Blanca, sentenced to eight years and recently transferred to house arrest.
In 2018, feminist lawyers regretted not being able to release Patricia Solorza, 34, who lived in Quilmes, a lower middle-class neighborhood in time. She already had two children and was arrested in 2014. She had had an abortion at home and abandoned the fetus in a field. Also sentenced to eight years in prison for homicide aggravated by bail, she died of infection in hospital.
The story of women imprisoned or convicted of abortion in Argentina is a series of tragedies that typically affect low-income women. The most serious cases occur in the north of the country, in the more conservative provinces. Until December last year, abortion was only allowed in cases of rape or the risk of death of the woman. Yet having access to abortion in these cases has always been very difficult.
“In many provinces, especially the more conservative ones, there are delegates, judges and doctors who are doing everything to criminalize women, from delaying access to safe and legal abortion to their conviction by different personalities after the ‘abortion,’ he says. Orrego-Hoyos.
Most complaints, according to the Cels survey, come from people who work in the health care system, who are afraid of being accused of committing an illegal abortion.
The legalization of abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy, even if it allows the end of the current procedures, does not directly affect the sentences imposed on women convicted of homicide – who initially continue as they are.
“We will have two jobs now. The first is to ask for a criminal review of the cases, so that they begin to be classified as abortion and not homicide. And, as abortion is no longer punishable in the country, they could be released, because the crime has ceased to exist, ”says Orrego-Hoyos.
Even reporting progress in legalizing abortion, many feminist activists admit that there will be difficulties in implementing the new law, as more measures are needed. “Poverty is a problem that runs through all these tragic stories, the lack of education and information too. These are problems that the law does not solve, other actions are necessary, ”says Orrego-Hoyos.
The Cels survey lists several examples of women who tried to hide their pregnancy until they faced complications from the termination of pregnancy and, for this reason, were hospitalized late, or who did not know that they were pregnant and found themselves without medical care, in addition to those who attempted an abortion with dangerous, homemade techniques.
For lawyer Ana Correa, author of “Somos Belén” (ed. Planeta), which tells the story of the character who opens this text, “the fight must now be for parity between the sexes in the judiciary. In the legislature, we already have a quota for women, the executive has many women, but not in the judiciary, which eliminates the gender perspective of processes and beliefs “.
According to her, women continue to face stigma, machismo and abuse in police stations and courts. “There is a lot of work to be done on this side,” he says.