(PRESS RELEASE) On the same day local advocates celebrate the official release of “Guadalupe”—a rape survivor who became pregnant, suffered an obstetric emergency, was charged for having an abortion and later wrongfully imprisoned for homicide—anonymous sources have confirmed that El Salvador will refuse to issue any additional pardons of other similarly imprisoned women, according to Agrupación Ciudadana.
Last month, the Congress approved “Guadalupe’s” pardon by 43 votes, after both the Human Rights Congressional Committee and Supreme Court Committee submitted their recommendation for her release. The remaining women, part of a group called “Las 17,” are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences.
For more than 16 years, 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. The ban has resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages, who are then charged for having an abortion and wrongfully convicted of homicide.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Guadalupe’s release should be celebrated as a victory and symbol of hope for women who have suffered under El Salvador’s unjust laws, but instead it marks a day justice is being denied to the rest of these wrongfully imprisoned women.
“Seeking critical health care in a medical emergency is not a crime, and no woman should have to fear imprisonment for doing so.
“El Salvador’s severe anti-abortion laws are a gross violation of the human rights of Las 17 and women across the country. We stand with our global and local partners to demand the release of all women wrongfully imprisoned under these laws, and long-overdue reform for all Salvadoran women living under their government’s cloud of fear, suspicion, and abuse.”
In December, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights, launched the “Las17” online campaign calling for the release of “Guadalupe” and 16 other Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were charged for having an abortion and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17” was released in December after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. The remaining 15 women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences.
In November, 12 countries denounced the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In January, a group of United Nations human rights experts called on El Salvador to review its draconian abortion law and pardon all women jailed for obstetric emergencies.
“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to shed light on the human rights violations faced by women in El Salvador, and we will not rest until the government reforms its laws to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s rights to life and health,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than 12 years to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. Recently, the Center and the Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the reportMarginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban, and includes the personal stories of five women who were unfairly prosecuted for illegal abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies without receiving medical attention. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.