I am a white, middle class man. I have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body. However, people listen to white, middle class men – so – if I can gain that bit more freedom for oppressed women around the world then it is worth a go. I had been contacted by Amnesty International about the case of “Belén” and I was close to tears. So, I am badgering Andrew Jones MP … again.
Dear Andrew Jones MP,
I really hope that you do not mind me contacting you so frequently, but – the subject I am writing to you about today has me close to tears. Imagine if, at a time of medical need, your doctor called the police. You had committed no crime — all you’d done was arrive at a hospital and ask for medical assistance that you were perfectly entitled to.
But now you must endure years in prison.
This is the experience of Belén* in northern Argentina: Imprisoned for a miscarriage.
In March 2014, the 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 and heavy vaginal bleeding. At the hospital, a doctor told Belén that she was 22 weeks pregnant and experiencing a miscarriage. Belén says she had no idea that she had been 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 physical evidence that she was connected with the contents (they did not analyse the DNA to establish a connection with Belén, for example).
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. Abortions are illegal in Argentina.
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’.
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 was held in pre-trial detention for over two years, awaiting a trial for abortion. 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 (whereas the maximum sentence for a woman initiating her own abortion is one to four years in prison).
On 19 April, Belén was found guilty of murder and sentenced to eight years in prison. Her sentence was confirmed on 3 May.
Belén’s layer appealed the sentence and requested Belén be released on bail while the appeal is heard. However, her request was rejected, and Belén remains in prison despite the appeal. A decision on this is expected in June.
Please call on Argentinian authorities to free Belén immediately and to drop the charges against her for suffering a miscarriage.
The case against Belén is entirely based upon the foetus found in the hospital bathroom.
’My client has always been linked…with the so-called ‘found foetus’, despite the fact that according to the evidence the foetus was found before she entered the hospital and despite considerable confusion in the files over whether there were one, two or several foetuses, whether it was a male or female foetus…whether it belonged to someone else. ‘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.’ Belén’s lawyer, Soledad Deza
Belén’s case is making waves. She is one of many, unfortunately, but her imprisonment has mobilised a campaign for justice on her behalf.
’Belén’s case matters to all of us. It has been publicized in hundreds of articles in the national and international media and it’s being widely shared on social networks. Belén’s lawyer petitioned for her release. Attached to the appeal were more than 30 pages listing people and organizations who support Belén. ’We care about her because we know about her. We care because, like the women of “Las 17” in El Salvador, Belén epitomizes the violence with which patriarchy is imposed by our states, even to the point of putting women in prison because, they suspect, they have not fulfilled the duties expected of a “good woman”. ’We care because we know that Belén has not had an adequate defence and from the moment she stepped into the hospital, was in fact condemned by her own doctor, a doctor who violated his duty to protect patient confidentiality by reporting her. ‘We care because it is an almost absurd example of how criminal law is applied selectively, imprisoning the poor who are considered guilty even when there is no evidence. And if they are women it’s even worse.’ Fernanda Doz Costa, Amnesty Americas Researcher
Her appeal could be heard in the district’s Supreme Court in the coming weeks, which is why now is the time to show Argentinian authorities that around the world, we stand beside Belén and demand her freedom.
The Argentinian woman, who has not been named and is known by the pseudonym of ‘Belén’, has been sentenced to eight years in prison under the country’s laws on abortion. Please, Andrew Jones MP, do all that is in your power to tell Argentina to free Belén now and put further pressure on Argentina to change their archaic laws that restrict women’s freedoms.
In the interests of democracy, I will publish his response, up on my site, below in the comments. Thank you for reading – and if you want to copy the above letter to forward on to your MP then feel free.