Psiquiatra infantil y perinatal, madre y activista
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Annulment of conviction in a case of pregnancy denial

What follows is the resumé of a historical sentence in Costa Rica where pregnancy denial was taken into account. Thanks to Marcé Society members Claudia Klier, Diana Barnes, Gina Wong, Alfonso Gil and my colleagues at European Institute of Perinatal Mental Health for their invaluable support in this case.

In San José, Costa Rica, on 30th September 2021


On the 8th September 2021, the Court of Criminal Appeal of San José, Costa Rica, decided to annul the trial in which a mother had been declared guilty. In the previous sentence, issued on the 3rd February 2021, it was agreed, unanimously, that Yoana was guilty of attempted manslaughter of her son; for which she had received a six-year imprisonment sentence (with the possibility of an electronically monitored house arrest as an alternative for the imposed sentence).

An Appeal was submitted by the Public Defender for the mother, requesting the acceptance of two expert reports by the psychiatrist Ibone Olza, head of the European Institute for Perinatal Mental Health, as well as the latter´s declaration before the Court of Appeal in her position as an expert specialist. Said declaration took place on the 1st July by videoconference from the Headquarters of the Consulate of Costa Rica in Madrid in the presence of the Consul, Alexis Coto Varela.

As the psychiatrist explained, Ms Yoana suffered a specified Dissociative Disorder 300.15, f44.89, DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association) within the context of a denied pregnancy. An accute dissociative reaction arose precisely before an extremely traumatic situation of unexpected and unassisted labor. This condition is described by the DSM-5 as a restriction of consciousness, depersonalisation, derealization, perceptual alteration, micro-amnesias and transient shock, all typically appearing in a situation of maximum acute stress. It implies impaired judgement due to a transient mental disorder.

The facts by which Ms Yoana was judged go back to the year of 2017, when she went to the nearest hospital due to a strong abdominal pain, where she was dismissed from hospital after being prescribed an assortment of medication as a treatment for a supposed “non specific abdominal infection with the presence of an intra-abdominal mass”. At the time she was feeling desperate due to her situation so she asked an aunt to pick her up and take her to another hospital.

During the journey, Yoana felt the need to defecate and she asked for the car to be stopped; they managed to stop at a shopping centre where she went into the toilet; she gave birth to a boy and left him in the toilet´s rubbish bin. She left, fell asleep in the vehicle and finally went home. The boy was found alive by an individual who had entered the toilet shortly after and called the emergency medical services who then transferred the baby to hospital, where he was admitted due to being an extremely preterm baby of aproximately six months of gestational age. A few days later, Yoana was arrested by the Police Staff Investigators because of what had been recorded regarding her entrance and exit from the shopping centre.

The result of the submitted appeal has meant an enormous progress in the judicial system. Achieving the annulment of a conviction against a woman who had not only been a victim of obstetric violence but was also severely pointed at by society, considered guilty of some facts which took place when she was in a altered state of consciousness (consequence of a pregnancy denial disorder) should be a motivation for all those members of society who are striving to make this disorder known and thus avoid women being unjustly submitted to a judicial process.

Other than that, it is hoped that Ms Yoana will be acquitted, in the following trial, of the conviction and responsibility, and be able to continue with her life without the pain of this sour memory to enjoy the company of her son who is now 6 years old. As it should be noted that any sort of conviction for the mother would imply harming a maternal bond which, despite the extreme adverse conditions of its beginning, has developed very favourably in protecting the minor.

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