On 27 March 2017, the Supreme Court of the Province of Tucuman in northern Argentina unanimously decided to acquit Belén, a 27-year-old woman who was sentenced to 8 years in prison after suffering a miscarriage in a public hospital.
In March 2014, Belén went to the public hospital in her province complaining of abdominal pain.
She was referred to a gynecologist as she was bleeding heavily. The doctor informed her that she was having a miscarriage of a foetus of about 22 weeks. Belén said she was unaware that she was pregnant.
Hospital staff later found a foetus in the bathroom and referred Belén to the police, claiming it was Belén’s “son” without any evidence or DNA analysis.
When Belén woke up in her bed after surgery, several police officers were surrounding her and she was subjected to a degrading examination “in private parts of her body”. Medical personnel and police officials violated her right to privacy and mistreated her.
Belén was accused of self-inducing an abortion (a crime in Argentina) and held in pre-trial detention for over two years. The prosecutor then changed the accusation from abortion to aggravated murder, and on 19 April 2016 Belén was sentenced to eight years in prison.
How did Amnesty respond?
Belén was the subject of an Amnesty International Urgent Action which was sent out globally in May 2016. More than 120,000 petitions from around the world urging for Belén to be released were collected and handed over to local authorities in July 2016. Of these, over 8,000 signatures came from Australia.
Amnesty also took the chance to meet with Belén in jail and deliver solidarity letters to her, and assisted the Supreme Court by presenting additional information relevant to her case.
Belén was released from pre-trial detention in August. Thank you to everyone who helped Belén.
Belén is now free of a horrendous situation that never should have happened in the first place, however there are other people who still need your help today.
A person who causes an abortion can face prison for up 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 criminalised.
International human rights bodies have called on countries to decriminalise abortion in all circumstances and ensure access to safe and legal abortion. Regardless of the legal status of abortion, countries have an obligation to ensure access to quality and confidential health services for the treatment of complications arising from unsafe abortions and miscarriages. This treatment must be free from discrimination, coercion and violence.
Sexual and reproductive rights are protected under international and regional human rights law. People have the right to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, free from violence, coercion or discrimination and to ensure that those decisions are respected. These include the right to health, personal integrity, autonomy and equality, among others.