Miscarriage is not a crime: free Belén

Having a miscarriage is a traumatic and painful experience for any woman. How did Argentina care for one young woman who went to hospital in agony? By putting her in prison – for eight years.

Call for Belén's freedom now

25-year old Belén went to hospital back in March 2014 seeking help for extreme abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. I imagine she was scared and desperate. But what happened next makes me wonder whether she would have still gone to that hospital had she known that she would be punished and eventually imprisoned for asking for help.

Belén was told she was having a miscarriage; she says she had no idea she was pregnant. This is when things get dangerous. It’s not technically a problem to experience a miscarriage in Argentina, but it is illegal to have an abortion. The medical staff attending to Belén claimed she had induced her miscarriage, and essentially tried to self-administrate an abortion. So they treated her abhorrently.

Medical staff found a foetus in a hospital bathroom and claimed it was Belén’s, without any proof she was in any way connected to it. They brought the foetus in a box to Belén’s hospital bed, showed it to her and claimed it was ‘her son’ while insulting her.

Belén’s lawyer says that the foetus was found before Belén entered the hospital and there was confusion in files over the number of foetuses found. Regardless of when this foetus was found, there was never any physical proof – DNA testing, for example – that linked it to Belén.

“This supposed link, first turned into a suspicion by medical staff, then into an accusation by police, then into a supposed forensic link after the fact, then it became a matter of record and finally a legal case, and ALL without a shred of evidence."
Soledad Deza, Belén’s lawyer

The medical professionals made assumptions and punished Belén with them.

Jailed for a miscarriage

Instead of being a place of sanctuary for healing, the hospital became Belén’s prison. She awoke after being operated on to find her hospital bed surrounded by police officers. Hospital staff, instead of respecting their patient’s confidentiality and putting her health first, had reported Belén to the police while she’d been out for the count.

Police officers then performed intrusive, humiliating and presumably painful inspections of Belén’s vagina, post-operation and post-miscarriage. They charged her with abortion.

That was the start of Belén’s pre-trial detention, which lasted for two years. Clearly she was a danger to society…

After two years of detention, the prosecution changed Belén’s charge from abortion to aggravated murder. Now, the maximum sentence for abortion in Argentina is four years, but Belén was found guilty of aggravated murder at her trial in 19 April and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Last week, Belén was denied bail – still a danger to society, clearly – and today she is in prison, with six years to go. All because she went to a hospital for help with her pain.

Argentina’s outdated abortion laws

While hospital staff broke patient confidentiality and from Belén’s accounts behaved with a bedside manner you wouldn’t wish on an enemy in full health, they reported the young woman because abortion is banned in Argentina, apart from in a couple of exceptional circumstances - when the woman's life is in danger, or where she has been raped and is deemed mentally disabled (yes, both required for that last one).

There were around half a million illegal abortions conducted in the country every year, according to Human Rights Watch research from 2009. That figure represents around 40% of all pregnancies.

Perhaps the hospital staff were scared. Perhaps they didn’t want to find themselves investigated. Who knows. But the way they treated Belén is a by-product of the ban, doubtless.

Criminalising abortion instils fear and confusion throughout society, so even medical professionals who could help are stuck in a position where the law seems unclear to them, or they won’t act for the women’s benefit for fear of being convicted as criminals themselves.

Just yesterday, the Republic of Ireland’s anti-abortion laws were deemed cruel, inhumane, discriminatory to women and in violation of their human rights by the UN, who are calling on Ireland to amend its constitution to stop punishing women. We can only hope the Irish government take this advice on board, and countries like Argentina follow suit.

No one should have to go through what Belén's experienced. She's simply not a criminal, and should never have been arrested for having a miscarriage.

Three things you can do

1. Tweet for Belén's freedom

Hit the buttons bellow to tweet the health authorities for Belén’s region, Tucumán Province.

English

Tweet   Belén – imprisoned for 8 years for having a miscarriage. Free her, @MSALUDTUC. #FreeBelén #LibertadParaBelén

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  I call on you to stop jailing women for miscarriages, @MSALUDTUC. #FreeBelén #LibertadParaBelén

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  I stand with Belén & demand her freedom, @MSALUDTUC. #FreeBelén #LibertadParaBelén

Spanish

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  Belén, condenada a 8 años de prisión tras aborto espontáneo en #Argentina. #LibertadParaBelén, @MSALUDTUC

Tweet!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');   Pedimos que garanticen la inmediata e incondicional, @MSALUDTUC. #LibertadParaBelén

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  Ninguna mujer debe ir presa por un aborto espontáneo o por complicaciones obstétricas, @MSALUDTUC

2. Contact the authorities on Facebook

Post on the Facebook page of the regional state health authorities.

You'll have to post a comment on a recent post (or their profile picture) as you can't write directly on their Facebook wall.

What to write

Feel free to write your own message, or copy and paste one of the below:

English

Free Belén, serving eight years in prison for a miscarriage.
I stand with Belén and call for her freedom. #freeBelén #LibertadparaBelen

Spanish

Ministra de Salud de Tucumán: actúe de inmediato para garantizar los derechos de Belén, condenada a 8 años por haber sufrido un aborto espontáneo.

Belén llegó con dolores al hospital. No sabía que estaba embarazada. Sufrió un aborto espontáneo. Hace dos años que está en prisión preventiva y corre peligro de estar tras las rejas seis años más. Su crimen? Sufrir un aborto espontaneo. #LibertadparaBelen

3. Send an email

If you haven’t already, please email the authorities overseeing Belén’s case via our website

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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.
View latest posts
0 comments