Center for Reproductive Rights Applauds Judge’s Decision, Repeats Call for Reversal of El Salvador’s Cruel and Destructive Abortion Ban
(PRESS RELEASE) A Salvadoran judge has granted pardon to “Mery” (a pseudonym), a 27-year-old woman with a mental disability who was sentenced to prison for ending a pregnancy, attempted suicide following her sentencing, and served six months’ time. El Salvador’s comprehensive ban on abortion is one of the most extreme in the world—prohibiting the procedure even when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life and imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with local Salvadoran organization Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Ético, Terapéutico y Eugenésico, filed a precautionary measure on Mery’s behalf on October 14, 2012, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking for humane treatment while calling attention to the consequences of an absolute abortion ban on Salvadoran women’s lives. The commission asked the state to demonstrate what measures they were taking to protect her. The judge assigned by the state to look into the matter determined that Mery was at risk of committing suicide again in prison and granted her pardon on March 14. “The human rights violations that Mery has suffered are far too common under the repressive regime of Salvadoran laws that criminalize what should be private reproductive health decisions and imprison countless women and doctors for exercising their fundamental rights,” said Luisa Cabal, Vice President of Programs for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “While we are pleased that Mery has been freed, this does not absolve the state of its responsibility to redress the injustices and harms to which not only she, but also countless other women throughout El Salvador have been subjected. “The ability of women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health, free from intrusion by the government, is intrinsic to the fulfillment of their fundamental human rights to health, autonomy, and dignity. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must call for an end to the ongoing persecution of women for their reproductive health decisions by the judicial system and police force in El Salvador.” Mery induced an abortion on March 11, 2012, and soon after received medical treatment for complications from the unsafe procedure. The medical staff reported her right away to authorities and policemen arrived and shackled Mery to her hospital bed. She had a nervous breakdown at the hospital. Even with her mental health deteriorated, the state of El Salvador still sentenced Mery on August 28, 2012 to two years in prison for inducing an abortion and was sent to Ilopango Women’s Prison the same day. She attempted suicide a few days later by slitting her wrists with a rusty nail she found on the ground. Since September 5, Mery has been held in the psychiatric ward of Hospital Policlínico Arce under 24-hour supervision by armed policemen, which has thwarted her ability to receive allowed visits from her lawyer and her family, and has had a negative impact on her recovery. 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. In 2000, the Center published its investigative report “Persecuted,” denouncing how health services, together with police forces and the judicial administration system, threaten the lives and integrity of women who experience induced and spontaneous abortions, as well as the women who have suffered obstetric complications while giving birth. On March 21, 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights and la Colectiva de Mujeres por el Desarrollo Local de El Salvador filed the case of “Manuela,” a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after having obstetric complications, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Manuela, who suffered from advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma and did not receive appropriate medical treatment for the disease, died less than a year after being sent to the Ilopango Women’s Prison. Her death left her two small children orphaned. Abortion was once legal in El Salvador under a narrow set of circumstances, but even these limited exceptions were removed in 1998. Under current Salvadoran law, anyone who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for up to eight years. A recent study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforced the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate is just 12 per 1,000. More information about abortion restrictions around the globe is available at CRR’s interactive World Abortion Laws map.