FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Elias Cruz, an agricultural laborer, took the day off recently to visit his daughter’s pro bono attorney.

ELIAS CRUZ: I was just talking to her. She feels her case has been abandoned. They did not investigate as they should have to get concrete evidence.

DE SAM LAZARO: Nineteen-year-old Glenda Cruz was recently sentenced to ten years in prison after her pregnancy ended under suspicious circumstances, a sentence lawyer Dennis Munoz Estanley plans to appeal.

Dennis Estanley

DENNIS MUNOZ ESTANLEY: Something that I’ve always told her is she is not alone in this case. Glenda has never been alone.

DE SAM LAZARO: Across town at the state’s medical-legal department, which advised the prosecution, Dr. Jose Fortin Magana saw a very different case.

DR. JOSE FORTIN MAGANA: She is in prison because of an abortion. It’s absolutely false what she says. What happens is when someone murders someone else he or she doesn’t turn up on the TV and say, I’m guilty of murder. Maybe there has been a mistake but in most cases they are guilty.

DE SAM LAZARO: Glenda Cruz is one of several cases that have come under public scrutiny in the debate over one of the world’s most stringent abortion laws. Since 1997, abortion has been illegal in El Salvador with no exceptions, which had once existed for cases such as rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life. Dozens of women have been prosecuted for illegal abortions, in some cases for aggravated homicide. The change reflects the strong influence in this largely Catholic nation of the group “Si ala Vida,” or “Yes to Life, and church leadership.

BISHOP MIGUEL MORAN AQUINO (Roman Catholic Bishop of San Miguel): We cannot accept any law that goes against life. Is not a question of faith and religion but of humanity.

DE SAM LAZARO: Members of El Salvador’s obstetrics and gynecology association say it’s a question of clinical realities, like women brought in after unsafe or botched abortion attempts.

Bishop Aquino

JORGE CRUZ (Obstetrician-Gynecologist): And in the public health system patients coming in with an abortion, whether self-provoked, septic, were told they had to report the patients for prosecution.

DE SAM LAZARO: Such reporting violates the doctors’ oath to preserve patient confidentiality. But legal-medical officer Dr. Fortin Magana says the doctors’ fears are exaggerated.

MAGANA: The statistics of the doctors in jail because of the crime of abortion is zero.

DE SAM LAZARO: In truly dire circumstances he says doctors can save a mother’s life. He points to the case last summer of a twenty-two- year-old woman whose case drew international attention.

“My name is Beatriz...”

DE SAM LAZARO: Known only as Beatriz, she was suffering from the immune disease lupus and from kidney failure. She was pregnant with a severely deformed fetus that could not survive outside the womb. El Salvador’s Supreme Court denied Beatriz’s petition for an abortion, a decision that drew widespread protests. The court upheld the recommendation of Dr. Fortin Magana’s office.

Dr. Jose Fortin Magana

MAGANA: The department of legal medicine said Beatriz wasn’t at imminent risk, and we were right, because time went on and she continued with her pregnancy. It means what they said was a lie, because if it were true then Beatriz would have died. The baby was delivered. He lived for eight hours, and then he died.

DE SAM LAZARO: Beatriz’s baby was delivered by caesarian section, a process that in Fortin Magana’s view respected its right to life. But Beatriz’s doctors argued that the weeks-long ordeal harmed her health and caused needless suffering.

MIRNA DE RIVAS (Obstetrician-Gynecologist): Thank God there were no more complications [with Beatriz and she lived]. She was a very public case for everyone here, but there are many other patients that cannot be like her.

DE SAM LAZARO: As an example the obstetricians say they cannot intervene to preserve a woman’s health even if her pregnancy has no chance of coming to term.

CRUZ: The law does not permit us to terminate pregnancies that are unviable, such as ectopic pregnancies, as long as there is a fetal heart beat. Often there is a rupture and hemorrhage, and often women die from the shock.

DE SAM LAZARO: For some women whose pregnancies have ended in later stages, things have gotten even more complicated. About nine years ago, Cristina Quintanilla, 18 at the time, was close to term when she says she suffered a miscarriage.

CRISTINA QUINTANILLA: I sat on the toilet and I felt a strong pain. I tried to grab the door knob. I fell. Next thing I know I’m in the hospital.

DE SAM LAZARO: Quintanilla’s mother called the police, a common practice here because ambulances are unreliable—a call that she thinks was construed as a complaint.

CARMEN QUINTANILLA: It was very depressing when I realized what I did. We were scared that she could die. Then when I went to investigate, I found out that it was totally opposite. It was very prejudicial, because the authorities misinterpreted it

Cristina Quintanilla

CRISTINA QUINTANILLA: I was dizzy because of the anesthesia and blood loss, and I saw a man wearing blue asking for my name. He said, you’re under arrest for the murder of your child.

DE SAM LAZARO: Quintanilla was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated homicide, even though she says the autopsy was ruled inconclusive. Her sentence was eventually commuted to time served—four hellish years, she says.

CRISTINA QUINTANILLA: I felt so terrible because the prosecutor would keep pointing at me and saying she killed her baby, she killed her baby. If you go to prison for an abortion, they beat you up, and so then they put you in isolation so you don’t even see the sun, and it’s not just me. There are other women in there.

DE SAM LAZARO: Lawyer Munoz Estanley represented Quintanilla and hopes he can win a similar commutation for Glenda Cruz.

ELIAS CRUZ BENEVIDES (Father of Glenda Cruz): I don’t believe she is capable of what they’ve accused her. She’s not violent; she was raised in a Christian family.

DE SAM LAZARO: Cruz says his daughter was a victim of domestic abuse, that her conviction was based on evidence from her estranged boyfriend. We tried without success to reach the prosecutors. Munoz Estanley has managed to free eight women jailed in abortion cases. He says the vast majority of those charged are poor, some illiterate, and face a legal system they don’t understand, which provides very poor legal services. He says women must think twice about seeking help in an obstetric emergency.

MUNOZ ESTANLEY: The women face the situation: do they just bleed to death, or do they go to jail? It's important to remember that before 1998, therapeutic abortions and abortions of deformed fetuses or for rape were allowed, and now it's not the same political climate.

DE SAM LAZARO: Bishop Aquino says the conservative tide is a direct reaction to international groups that have tried to impose liberal social legislation that’s counter to the culture and values here.

BISHOP AQUINO: They want to promote therapeutic abortion. This would open the window to other kinds of abortions, then same-sex marriage and adopting children by homosexuals or lesbians.

DE SAM LAZARO: Recent polls show most Salvadorians oppose abortion but support some exceptions; however, with elections looming next year political analysts say it’s doubtful there’ll be any changes to the laws governing abortion.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in San Salvador, El Salvador.

El Salvador Abortion Ban

Strongly influenced by Catholic teachings, the country of El Salvador now forbids all abortions. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from San Salvador on the consequences for many women when abortion is considered murder, regardless of the circumstances.

  • Gwyn

    Talk about going back to the dark ages! They have no feelings for the pain, suffering, and death this will cause. Or, they do not care. But then, they are men. Why should they care?

  • cookke


  • felipe

    Do you even know what El Salvador means?? Of course most of us are catholic and value life even for those who have not been born yet. Respect our laws, we have our beliefs in God and we are happy with that. You all should feel ashamed for supporting the genoside of millions of unborns. Instead of try blame everything on a law that prohibits abortion why do yoh keep your legs shut. It is our right to seek for the rights of those who cant speak for themselves.

  • cipher

    Take heed, people. This is what the Christofascists in the US want for all of us.

  • Jane Roberts

    If men could become pregant, abortion would be safe and legal everywhere.

  • Tracy

    Felipe, do you know what an ectopic pregnancy is? Even if the fetus has a beating heart it will never, ever grow into a full term baby and be born because it burrows into the woman’s Fallopian tube rather than her uterus, as it should. Eventually the fetus grows and the tube explodes because it doesn’t expand like a uterus and if a Fallopian tube ruptures the woman will bleed and hemorrhage and very likely die. Since there is no way for a baby to be properly nourished or grow in this tube the pregnancy is doomed from day one, despite the beating heart. I hope your wife, your sister nor your daughter ever have to face dying from this unfortunately not uncommon type of pregnancy in El Salvador. Here in the U.S. It is very sad to live through but at least a woman will survive the ordeal rather than sacrificing her life for a fetus that will never ever be born.

  • facts are best

    The woman will not “likely die”, and these pregnancies are no more common in El Salvador than they are anywhere else. Scare tactics are so immature…

  • MenHaveFlngsToo

    That’s aweful sexist of you.

  • ThankYourMotherForHerChoice

    You mean all of us that were spared, and now have a voice in such matters?

  • cipher

    Those of you who have a voice and no brains.

  • ThankYourMotherForHerChoice

    So people that disagree with you have no brain? Quite the arrogant position.

  • cipher

    Well, don’t worry. Soon enough, I’ll be in hell, while you get to watch from heaven. I’m sure that will give you no end of pleasure.

  • ThankYourMotherForHerChoice

    Are we still talking about “what the Christofascists in the U.S. want”, “whether people that disagree with you have no brain”, or “what happends to cipher after death”. I can’t keep up with you… Probably because I “have no brain”

  • ThankYourMotherForHerChoice

    I will pray for you, and your entire family to make it to heaven.

  • cipher

    Thank you, but not interested.

  • KS-NC

    Ectopic pregnancies aren’t terribly uncommon here, and no more or less common than in El Salvador. The difference is that a woman presenting with one here will get prompt treatment, which will include removing the developing embryo (terminating, or aborting, the pregnancy). When treated promptly, ectopic pregnancies don’t pose a great deal of risk for a woman’s life. However, untreated, they are extremely dangerous and much more difficult to repair.

  • KS-NC

    You should feel ashamed for the disrespect you have for the women who have raised and fed you. I pray to God to give you grace and understanding.

  • my2cents

    me, too, but without the christofascists. It’s too bad that so many years of war turned the poverty in El Salvador to misery with all the ignorance of religion involved. These religious “moralists” think that their made-up god(s), which are only the reflection of themselves, rule over the human rights of people, and most of the rights of all women. An embryo or fetus is not human, only in their imagination.

  • Anon

    Please don’t speak for the entire salvadoran population. There are plenty of us who don’t agree with the laws or the way religion influences the most powerful groups in our country. Instead of asking women to “keep our legs shut”, which puts further blame on women- not men- you should ask religious leaders for better sex education, also, if you are so enthralled with speaking for those who can’t speak, start with the women around you, who are regarded as half human in salvadoran society.

  • JMS

    I have had an ectopic and am very pro-life. If a women should have an ectopic pregnancy, I would hope the law would not forbid proper treatment.

  • Shirley

    I had been pro-life but my2cents has convinced me otherwise with his/her brilliantly reasoned post. “An embryo or fetus is not human, only in their imagination”. Of course! It’s all so clear now! The rest of the post is similarly persuasive. Cipher is also a compelling figure, making atheism sound attractive, given how civil and rational it has made him.

  • cipher

    I am not civil, and make no apology for it. However, how am I not rational? You people eagerly anticipate what you believe to be our impending eternal damnation, while you get to watch from heaven and enjoy the spectacle.

    I’m not irrational. My real crime is stating publicly what you believe and making you confront the horrific reality of your abominable theology.