"Abortion rights activists protest in Mexico City, where abortion is decriminalised. However, abortion is illegal in much of the country." (Photo: Henry Romero / Reuters/Reuters)

When a miscarriage means you go to jail

Humanists International protests abortion laws under which women are being jailed after suffering miscarriages

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 22 مارس 2019

In January, Dafne McPherson, a 29-year-old Mexican woman who had been sentenced to 16 years in jail after suffering a miscarriage in a department store bathroom, was released from prison after a court overturned her conviction for murdering her new-born baby.

However, many women like Daphne remain in jail in countries who essentially criminalize miscarriage.

El Salvador has the worst record. Currently, there are 23 Salvadoran women who say they suffered a miscarriage and are now serving lengthy jail terms. Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too can face long sentences in jail.

Humanists International raised the issue this week in an oral statement at the UN Human Rights Council during a debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The Vienna Declaration explicitly prioritizes the human rights of women, including the eradication of gender-based violence.

Our statement argued that the total ban on abortion in countries such as Chile, Malta, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, is “nothing less than institutionalized violence against women and a form of inhuman treatment and torture.” We pointed out that ban on abortions can be “so draconian that even miscarriage is considered suspicious.”

The result is not only a criminalization of abortion, but of personal tragedy, miscarriages and medical emergencies.

Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey comments: “These draconian bans violate the fundamental rights of women and girls and the right to be free from violence, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment. This has been highlighted by UN bodies and experts repeatedly.

“Governments are ultimately responsible for these violations and therefore we called on those governments via the UN Human Rights Council to not only release all those held for abortions and miscarriage immediately, but to urgently decriminalize abortion and ensure its availability in accordance with international human rights obligations.”

The statement follows in full below.


40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (25th February – 22nd March 2019)

General Debate Item 8
Kacem El Ghazzali

Through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States explicitly agreed to prioritize the human rights of women, including the eradication of gender-based violence.

The total ban on abortion in countries such as Chile, Malta, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, is nothing less than institutionalized violence against women and a form of inhuman treatment and torture.1

The ban on abortions can be so draconian that even miscarriage is considered suspicious. The criminalization of abortion places the government ultimately responsible for these violations.

Currently, in El Salvador, there are reportedly 23 women who say they suffered a miscarriage and are now serving lengthy jail terms. Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too could face long sentences in jail.2

The result is not only a criminalisation of abortion, but of personal tragedy, miscarriages and medical emergencies also.

These draconian bans violate the fundamental rights of women and girls and the right to be free from violence, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment. This has been highlighted by UN bodies and experts repeatedly.

We call on the countries concerned to decriminalize abortion with urgency and ensure its availability in accordance with international human rights obligations. We also call for the immediate release of those women serving jail time because they miscarried.


Page banner image: “Abortion rights activists protest in Mexico City, where abortion is decriminalised. However, abortion is illegal in much of the country.” (Photo: Henry Romero / Reuters/Reuters)


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