A Bogus Test Has Landed Women In Prison For Infanticide in El Salvador

In El Salvador, where termination of pregnancy whether abortion, miscarriage, or stillborn, is illegal, 17 women are currently sitting in prison, convicted of assassinating their children, that is, convicted of not giving birth to healthy, live babies. They are known as Las 17, and eight of these women were convicted based on a “test” has been ruled unsound for over a century.

The “float test” is a technique used to discern whether or not a fetus was dead before delivery. It is disconcertingly simple, as fervent float test supporter and fundamentalist Dr. José Miguel Fortin Magaña, director of the Salvadorian Institute for Legal (Forensic) Medicine describes, via RH Reality Check:

As part of the autopsies we took the little lungs of the babies and put them in a container of liquid, and they floated. It’s called hydrostatic docimasia. It’s when a lung has breathed, when it has taken in air. When the baby is in the mother’s womb, it has not breathed air. When someone has not breathed, when it has not been born in this sense, it [the lung] sinks to the bottom. When it floats it has breathed air.

If that sounds like a load of bullshit to you, just know that it is, in fact, a load of bullshit. A feminist abortion decriminalization group in El Salvador, Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, has requested pardons for these women, stating that Las 17 had dealt with various reproductive conditions leading to miscarriages or stillbirth.

As part of their petition, they contacted Dr. Gregory Davis of the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky, who looked through the medical documents of a few of Las 17. Davis found that this float test was unreliable in all the given circumstances, citing studies from 2009, 2004 and 1985 and including a reference stating the test was suspect even in 1900. 1900.

Davis drew up a report discrediting the test as part of the appeal to pardon Las 17, but it doesn’t appear as though Fortin nor El Salvador’s conservative government are going to drop their disdain for pregnant women and simply heed Davis’ findings. As Kathy Bougher at RH Reality check points out, members of the fundamentalist right in El Salvador resort to fear tactics like intimidation and threats towards those who are critical of the harsh anti-abortion/anti-woman policy.

With increasing evidence and support from the likes of Amnesty International, hopefully Agrupación and other humans and women’s rights groups can see to the end of the criminalization of miscarriage and abortion.

Image via Getty.

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