03.29.2022 (PRESS STATEMENT) – In El Salvador, another woman—of the many unjustly convicted for homicide after an accusation of a suspected abortion—was released after serving more than 13 years in prison. Maritza, whose full name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is now free after the Salvadoran State commuted the 30-year prison sentence she received.
Five other women – Elsy, Karen, Kathy, Evelyn, and Kenia – have been released from prison in El Salvador since December 23, 2021. Like Maritza, they had been accused of having abortions and then convicted for aggravated homicide, after experiencing obstetric emergencies such as stillbirths, miscarriages, or precipitous or out-of-hospital births. Before December 23, 17 women were in prison for similar cases; today, 11 remain.
These liberations come shortly after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court HR) declared El Salvador responsible for the death of Manuela, another woman who was unjustly convicted in 2008 of aggravated homicide after an obstetric emergency, who later died in 2010 while deprived of her liberty. Manuela’s case was litigated by the Center together with Colectiva Feminista por el Desarrollo Local and Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.
In the ruling published on November 30, 2021, the IA Court HR recognized in the Manuela case that the absolute criminalization of abortion in El Salvador means that many women are unjustly persecuted for seeking health care during obstetric emergencies. The Manuela ruling recognized that the total criminalization of abortion in El Salvador creates a intimidation effect that causes the criminalization of women who lose their pregnancies and called for policy changes to ensure medical confidentiality to stop these arrests.
Statement from Catalina Martínez Coral, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, on Maritza’s liberation:
“It is exciting and very encouraging to know that Maritza has been released, joining those who were already released.
These women are survivors of a terrible phenomenon of criminalization of obstetric emergencies in El Salvador that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized in Manuela’s case. What the Court recognized is that in that country, the total criminalization of abortion has also led to this horrible phenomenon of criminalization of obstetric emergencies that specifically impacts those who live in poverty and in rural areas.
The total prohibition of abortion in El Salvador creates a chilling effect for health professional that leads them to denounce women who have obstetric emergencies to avoid prosecution. As a result, many women, out of fear, prefer not to seek health services for their pregnancies.
Like several of the released women, many of those prosecuted for obstetric emergencies did not have access to regular reproductive health care due to lack of resources and support from the State.
El Salvador can stop these injustices by implementing the policies put forth in the Manuela ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which provides a roadmap so that girls and women in El Salvador will never again have to go through the terrible injustices such as those experienced by Maritza, Elsy, Karen, Kathy, Evelyn and Kenia.
Thanks to the collective work of many civil society organizations, Maritza and the other women can return to their homes to rebuild their lives.
We see progress in the release process because it represents a guarantee of minimum rights for all. We urge the releases continue and will advocate for appropriate reparations for all of them due to the unjust violations of their human rights .”
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