‘I just wanted help and ended up a prisoner’: A message from Belén, imprisoned for a miscarriage
On 17 August the Supreme Court of Tucumán, a state in north Argentina, said there were not enough reasons to keep Belén, 27, in pre-trial detention. The Supreme Court of Tucumán is yet to issue a final ruling on the eight-year sentence imposed on Belén by the lower court. Belén was released from jail on 18 August.
Although the charges against her haven't been dropped yet, this is a step forward for human rights in Argentina.
“Belén’s release is extremely positive and long-awaited news. What we need to see now is for the charges against her to be dropped. Belén should have never been held behind bars in the first place, having a miscarriage is not a crime,” said Mariela Belski, Executive Director at Amnesty International Argentina.
On 26 July, Amnesty International handed over more than 120,000 petitions from across the globe to local authorities, urging for Belén to be released.
Belen has said she is grateful for such support for her case.
Here is the message from ‘Belén’ (not her real name):
Hello to all women fighters and all the people who are with me at this time. I want to thank you for making my struggle your struggle. Thanks for supporting me, for making my voice and my truth heard.
I was quiet for two years. I did not dare to speak. I was scared. I was told that I would get a life [sentence].
I was sentenced only on hearsay, for being poor, for going to hospital, for not having the money to go to a [private] clinic and pay for a good defence attorney.
Since 21 March 2014 I have not been able to go back to my home, I have not seen my family. I was deprived of many things. I just wanted help and ended up being a prisoner, surrounded by policemen and pointing fingers. Two years and three months away from my home, they snatched my life!
Nobody asked how I felt that night. I was accused of having had an abortion. My mother was also treated badly. Nobody cared about me. ‘She is ignorant, she knows nothing’, the hospital said, and they condemned me along with the police. Justice [authorities] also condemned me. I told them that I did nothing wrong, I did not kill anyone.
I did not know I was pregnant. I weep for the injustice I am experiencing. But I am calm, I know there will be justice for me. I'm now stronger, calmer.
I never hurt anyone, never stole, never killed, did not use drugs. I am a woman who worked all her life. I always did what I had to do.
I am eternally grateful to all who are helping me to make my voice heard. From here I send my greetings and hugs. I am very happy that I'm not alone.
Thank you, and thank you to all women. We fight together so they hear us, so there are no more women imprisoned for abortion. Now your fight is my fight.
Greetings and affection to you.
In March 2014, then 25-year-old Belén went to a state hospital in San Miguel de Tucumán, a city in northern Argentina, complaining of severe abdominal pains. At the hospital, a doctor told Belén that she was 22 weeks pregnant and experiencing a miscarriage. Belén was unaware that she was pregnant. She was kept in hospital for care.
Medical staff found a foetus in a hospital bathroom and claimed it was Belen’s, without any evidence or DNA analysis to prove she had any relationship to the foetus. A nurse brought a box containing the foetus to Belén’s bedside, claiming it was ‘her son’ and insulting her, Belén says.
The hospital staff reported Belén to the police, claiming that she had induced an abortion, rather than had a miscarriage. The person who causes an abortion can face prison from one to four years in Argentina. The law permits abortion when the life or health of a pregnant woman is at risk or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. Miscarriages or other complications during pregnancy are not criminalized.
The next thing Belén knew, she woke up in the hospital bed after surgery surrounded by police, who subjected her to intrusive physical examinations of ‘private parts of her body’.ac.
The medical professionals hadn’t proven Belén’s relation to the foetus and they had failed to protect her right to patient confidentiality. Belén was charged with inducing an abortion.
Belén has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years, awaiting trial and now annulment of her sentence. The prosecutor changed her charge to aggravated murder for the premeditated killing of a close relative – a crime that carries prison sentences of up to 25 years.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.