Patient privacy and conflicting legal and ethical obligations in El Salvador: reporting of unlawful abortions

Heathe Luz McNaughton, Ellen M H Mitchell, Emilia G Hernandez, Karen Padilla, Marta Maria Blandon

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Postabortion care providers who breach patient confidentiality endanger women's health and violate ethics. A 1998 abortion ban in El Salvador likely spurred an increase in the number of women investigated, because many women were reported to legal authorities by health care providers. Having analyzed safeguards of confidentiality in laws and ethical guidelines, we obtained information from legal records on women prosecuted from 1998 to 2003 and identified factors that may lead to reporting through a survey of obstetrician-gynecologists (n=110). Although ethical and human rights standards oblige providers to respect patients' privacy, 80% of obstetrician-gynecologists mistakenly believed reporting was required. Most respondents (86%) knew that women delay seeking care because of fear of prosecution, yet a majority (56%) participated in notification of legal authorities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Public Health
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1927-33
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Abortion, Criminal/statistics & numerical data
  • Confidentiality/ethics
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Criminal Law
  • Deception
  • Disclosure/ethics
  • El Salvador
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Gynecology/ethics
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Mandatory Reporting/ethics
  • Obstetrics/ethics
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care/psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Health Administration/ethics
  • Social Responsibility
  • Women's Health/ethics
  • Women's Rights/ethics


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