Update: After oral arguments on March 10-11, a decision is expected in this case by the end of 2021.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its local partner in El Salvador, the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local and the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, will be presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on March 10 and 11 in Manuela v. El Salvador. The case centers around a Salvadoran woman, Manuela, who in 2008 was unjustly sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after suffering an obstetric emergency that resulted in her pregnancy loss. Manuela died imprisoned two years later from cancer, after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment.
El Salvador has a total ban on abortion and imposes harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. The country’s abortion ban has resulted in the unjust imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages and have been charged with having an abortion and convicted of homicide.
“Manuela was the victim of a State that does not protect the life and health of women, that discriminates and criminalizes them for having natural complications of pregnancy and does not provide guarantees to protect the confidentiality between medical staff and patients,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We want El Salvador to assume the international responsibility it has evaded for years despite the repeated calls from multiple human rights organizations to review the legislation that causes this unjust criminalization of women.”
The case was brought in 2012 by the Center and the Colectiva Feminista 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 Inter-American Court of Human Rights is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), which serves to uphold and promote basic rights and freedoms in the Americas.
Decision Could Have Wide Impact in Latin America and the Caribbean
The case 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. It will also create 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 Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the highest judicial body for human rights in the Americas and its rulings have far-reaching impact in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Court’s rulings, based on the American Convention on Human Rights, have been understood as binding to all of the States under its jurisdiction, and have been traditionally used as a binding interpretation by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights when ruling on cases and elaborating reports on the whole Americas region, under the OAS Charter.
Manuela Received Inadequate Care
After Manuela arrived at the hospital, the staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion. She was then 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. In 2010, during her imprisonment, she died, leaving her two children orphaned. Her death was due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which the State failed to properly diagnose and treat.
Watch the arguments online:
Oral argument in Manuela v. El Salvador at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Wednesday, March 10 and Thursday, March 11 @ 8:00 am [San José – San Salvador]/9:00 am [New York—Bogotá]. In Spanish and English.
Case background: Manuela v. El Salvador
Fact Sheets on the Case
- 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)