Guardian: Sonia Tábora and the risks of being poor and pregnant in El Salvador

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By Vickie Knox
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In the middle of the night of 19 February 2005, 20-year-old Sonia Tábora went into premature labour at seven months, alone, in a coffee plantation near her home in rural El Salvador. Her family found her collapsed, haemorrhaging and in a state of shock, and took her to a health centre in search of help. Tábora explained what happened, but the doctor accused her of provoking an abortion and reported her to the police. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder.

Tábora's case is emblematic of women's experience under El Salvador's abortion law – one of the most restrictive in the world. Previous legal access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, a threat to the woman's life or health or severe foetal abnormality was repealed in 1998, and abortion was criminalised in all circumstances: even to save a woman's life. Abortion is punishable with up to eight years in prison, but if the foetus is deemed to have been viable, the charge is habitually converted to murder, which carries a sentence of 30 to 50 years.

Lack of access to reproductive healthcare also affects women's ability to participate on an equal basis with men in public life. It has a particularly detrimental impact on access to work and education, perpetuating socio-economic and educational disadvantage, increasing gender inequalities and feminising poverty: it shapes a society which is inherently unfair and unequal.

Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, has said that "liberalising restrictive abortion laws, like El Salvador's, is essential to saving the lives and protecting the health of millions of women across the globe every year. Study after study has shown there are no positive outcomes to banning abortion outright."

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