A fourth woman has been released from prison in El Salvador in a month, one of the many women convicted for having a suspected abortion. Kenia, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, was paroled after being incarcerated for more than nine years of her 30-year sentence. Three other women – Karen, Kathy and Evelyn – also had their sentences commuted and were released on December 23, 2021. They had been unjustly criminally prosecuted for being suspected of having abortions, when in actuality they had experienced obstetric emergencies such as stillbirths, miscarriages, precipitous or out-of-hospital births. Before December 23, 17 women were in prison for similar cases; today, 13 remain.
These liberations come shortly after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court HR) declared El Salvador responsible for the death of Manuela, another woman who was convicted in 2008 of aggravated homicide and later died in prison in 2010 while deprived of her liberty.
In the ruling published on November 30, the IA Court HR recognized in the Manuela case that the absolute criminalization of abortion in El Salvador means that many women are unjustly persecuted for seeking health care during obstetric emergencies. The Manuela ruling recognizes that the total criminalization of abortion in El Salvador creates a chilling effect that causes the criminalization of women who lose their pregnancies, and calls for policy changes to ensure medical confidentiality to stop this situation.
Statement from Catalina Martínez Coral, Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, on these new developments:
“To prosecute a woman for having experienced an involuntary pregnancy loss is one of the worst injustices that can exist. They are criminalized while their lives and health are at risk.
Liberating Kenia, Karen, Kathy and Evelyn is a positive step forward in ensuring basic rights that for so long have been denied to these women.
By implementing what was ordered by the IA Court HR in the Manuela’s sentence, the Salvadoran State has the opportunity to avoid repeating this terrible injustice of imprisoning women for having had an involuntary pregnancy loss. Let us remember that thanks to the Manuela case, never again in El Salvador, nor in Latin America and the Caribbean, can a woman be denounced by medical personnel for suspicion of an alleged abortion.
Thanks to the collective work of many civil society organizations, these four women now have the opportunity to return to their homes to rebuild and resume their lives, something Manuela was unable to do.
With this international ruling, these human rights violations by the Salvadoran State now must end.
At this moment, 13 other women with a similar story are still unjustly imprisoned. They started out as 17 but all of them deserve freedom as we have been demanding through the campaign @Las17ElSalvador. Today more than ever, we say #BringHomeLas17.”