(PRESS RELEASE) This week an amendment to decriminalize abortion in certain circumstances was introduced in El Salvador. If passed, abortion would become legal in cases of rape and when a pregnancy puts the health or life of a woman at risk.
President of the Salvadoran Congress, Lorena Peña introduced the proposed amendment to the country’s penal code to the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, with the support of other congresswomen. The amendment has already received wide support from the Alliance for the Health and Life of Women (la Alianza por la Salud y la Vida de Las Mujeres)—a coalition of more than 30 human rights organizations and international human rights activists including Agrupación Ciudadana.
For nearly 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. The ban has resulted in the 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 Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Countless women in El Salvador are ostracized and persecuted because of the country’s unjust abortion ban—whether they’ve sought to end their pregnancy or simply suffered a miscarriage.
“Every single Salvadoran woman wrongfully imprisoned under this cruel law deserves justice. This amendment to the penal code, presented by Lorena Peña, is a critical step in the right direction.
“The Center for Reproductive Rights stands with the Alliance for the Health and Life of Women and supports the passage of this law as an essential measure towards ending El Salvador’s criminalization of pregnant women.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. In December 2015, the Center together with Agrupación Ciudadana filed a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—a principal human rights body for the Americas—on behalf of nine women who had serious pregnancy complications and are now in prison due to the severe enforcement of El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban. The petition shows that the women suffered multiple due process violations, including the police failing to read them their rights when initially being questioned and being denied the right to appeal their cases against their wrongful detainment. The case also argues that women’s rights to personal integrity, health, private and family life, freedom from gender violence, equality before the law and non-discrimination were violated.
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 “Guadalupe” and 16 other Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were charged for allegedly having illegal abortions and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17” was released last December 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. And in May 2016, Maria Teresa was released after the San Salvador Third Tribunal of Sentences determined she was wrongfully imprisoned—absolving and overturning her conviction. The remaining 13 women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences.
The Center and the Agrupación Ciudadana also co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial, and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.