Criminalization of Reproductive Health Services Discriminates Against Women
(Updated 03.10.21) In March of 2021, the Center for Reproductive Rights and partners presented oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asking that the Salvadoran State be held responsible for violating the human rights of Manuela, a Salvadoran woman who was unjustly sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after suffering an obstetric emergency that resulted in her pregnancy loss. A decision, expected by the end of 2021, could have far-reaching impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In this case, the Court for the first time will have the opportunity to recognize how the absolute denial and criminalization of reproductive health services in El Salvador discriminates against and causes violence against women who suffer obstetric emergencies, denying them due process.
Manuela, a 33-year-old Salvadoran woman with limited economic resources, experienced an obstetric emergency and pregnancy loss. At the hospital, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion. She was arrested by the police, who shackled her to the stretcher and interrogated her without the presence of a lawyer. Manuela was convicted of aggravated homicide and unfairly sentenced to 30 years in prison. Two years later, during her imprisonment, Manuela died of cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned.
In March 2012, the Center and the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local presented Manuela’s case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, on behalf of Manuela’s family. In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) advanced the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, contending that the Salvadoran State had violated several of Manuela’s human rights, including the right to life, health, judicial protections and guarantees, and freedom from discrimination and gender-based violence. The Court heard oral arguments in Manuela v. El Salvador in March of 2021.
Manuela v. El Salvador is an opportunity for the Court to create standards for all States within the Inter-American System on Human Rights to guarantee the right to life, and the right to health of women, including those imprisoned, as well as standards on how to conduct investigations and fair trials in these circumstances. The case also seeks reparations for Manuela’s family and sanctions against El Salvador for its incapacity to comply with international obligations to guarantee women’s reproductive rights.
Plaintiff(s): Family of Manuela
Center Attorney(s): Catalina Martínez and Carmen Martínez
Partners: Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local and the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto
Filing date: 03/21/12
- Manuela v. El Salvador: The Impact of blanket abortion bans on women experiencing obstetric emergencies (English)
- Manuela vs. El Salvador: El Impacto De La Prohibición Absoluta Del Aborto Sobre Las Mujeres Que Sufren Emergencias Obstétricas (Spanish)
- Center to Argue at Inter-American Court of Human Rights for Salvadoran Woman Imprisoned After Suffering Obstetric Emergency (03/04/21)
- Center Appeals to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for Release of Unjustly Imprisoned Salvadoran Women (12/08/20)
- Inter-American Court of Human Rights Hears Case of Salvadoran Woman Imprisoned After Obstetric Emergency (03/10/21)
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights files case of Manuela vs. El Salvador before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (10/10/19)
Case Documents & Video