In El Salvador, a Stillbirth Landed Teen Mom in Prison

She was sentenced to 30 years under country's restrictive abortion laws
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2014 8:53 AM CDT
In El Salvador, a Stillbirth Landed Teen Mom in Prison
An activist caresses the belly of Maribel Gutierrez Correa, from Peru, a 40-year-old woman eight months pregnant.   (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

In October 2004, 17-year-old Salvadoran Christina Quintanilla was seven months pregnant with her second baby. One night she experienced excruciating back pain and went into labor. "I felt like I couldn't breathe, like I was drowning," she tells NPR. She passed out, only to be found by her mother in a pool of blood in the bathroom. Her baby, she and her mother say, was stillborn. But in El Salvador, which the Guardian reports ranks among the world's strictest anti-abortion countries, she was interrogated at the hospital by a police officer, handcuffed, and after a yearlong trial sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Quintanilla served four years before a young attorney happened upon her case and argued that because no one established the cause of the baby's death, her sentence had to be overturned. Today, she lives with 11-year-old son Daniel and 3-year-old daughter Alexandra and has become an activist against the country's abortion laws, which ban abortion even in cases of rape or if the mother's life is at risk. In the years between 2000 and 2011, 49 women have been convicted of abortion-related crimes: 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide, according to the region's Citizens' Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion. Women can face as many as 50 years in prison. (In the US, Missouri now has one of the country's strictest abortion laws.)

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