(PRESS RELEASE) Following almost 15 years of wrongful imprisonment after suffering a stillbirth, the Salvadoran President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, through the Ministry of Justice commuted the sentence of Maira Veronica Figueroa Marroquin and released her today. In their decision, the court considered the sentence to be excessive and immoral.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked to expose the consequences that El Salvador’s blanket abortion ban has on the lives of women and is pleased with Maira's release.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said:
“While we celebrate Maira's release today, we condemn the government of El Salvador for not acknowledging the lack of due process and failing to recognize her innocence.
“It is inconceivable that Maira spent almost 15 years in prison for experiencing a pregnancy complication. Although she has been released, her conviction has not been overturned and she continues to be guilty in the eyes of the law.
"Maira is one of more than 25 women who have been wrongfully imprisoned after suffering pregnancy-related complications in El Salvador. For two decades, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances—even when necessary to save a woman’s life—imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians.
“El Salvador must prioritize abortion law reform and release the remaining women wrongfully behind bars.”
Maira, 34, became pregnant in 2003. Shortly before reaching full-term while working as a housekeeper, she experienced pregnancy complications that resulted in a late-term miscarriage. Without any witnesses or direct proof, Maira was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Today, after almost 15 years behind bars she walks free and joins her family and fellow members of Las 17, Maria Teresa, Guadalupe, Teodora, Mirna, Kenia, Johana and Mariana.
There were multiple due process violations in Maira’s case, including a lack of adequate public defense. She was not assigned a defense lawyer until the day of her first hearing. She never saw or heard the forensic testimony or medical examiner’s testimony and without any witnesses or proof she was convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to serve 30 years in prison.
Last week, on International Women’s Day, over 3,000 women took to the street in San Salvador to demand the protection of their human rights and for the country to end its cruel and harsh abortion laws.
El Salvador has the chance to reform its abortion law. There are two proposed amendments to the penal code that are waiting to be discussed and voted on since 2016 at the Salvadoran Commission of Legislation and Constitutional Issues before it goes to the full Congress for further discussion and a final vote. If enacted, women would be allowed to access safe and legal abortion services when pregnancy pose a risk to their health or life and in cases of rape and fatal fetal impairments.
“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to shed light on the human rights violations caused by El Salvador’s abortion ban,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center. “We stand with our global and local partners and will not rest until abortion law reform is a reality and women’s reproductive rights are protected and respected.”
The Center, together with Agrupación Ciudadana, filed two cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Teodora, Maira, and Maria Teresa who are now free, and six other women who also had serious pregnancy complications and are still in prison due to the severe enforcement of El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban. And, on behalf of Manuela, a Salvadoran woman wrongfully imprisoned after having an obstetric emergency and who later died from untreated Hodgkins lymphoma in prison.
In December 2014, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights launched the “Las17” online campaign calling for the release of 17 Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were accused of having illegal abortions and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17,” was released in December 2014 after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. In February 2015, Guadalupe was successfully released and pardoned, after serving seven years in prison. In May 2016, Maria Teresa was released after a judge ruled that there were violations of due process in her case. And in February 2016 Sonia Tábora was pardoned and released. The remaining women are serving 30-40 years sentences for crimes they never committed.
Correction: An earlier version of the release misstated the court order. The reason given by the court for Teodora's release is that there are "powerful reasons based on justice, equity, and legal concepts that justify favoring her with the grace of commutation,” not because there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she took any voluntary actions that would have led to a stillbirth.