• Alix Vadot

When Loss Leads to Prison


Manuela, 33, mother of two. Treated for severe complications during birth. Accused of having an abortion. Sentenced to 30 years in prison. Later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma and died less than a year after miscarriage. Case filed in 2012.[1]

Guadalupe Vasquez, 17. Raped by her neighbor but decides to keep the baby. In 2007, goes into childbirth with no medical care and gives birth to a baby who dies immediately. Sentenced to 7 years and 3 months of prison. Rapist is not convicted.[2]

Mayra Veronica Figueroa, 19. Raped and gives birth to stillborn baby. Jailed for 30 years in 2004, still in jail in 2015. Proclaims, “If I wanted to find a way to kill my unborn child, I would not have gone through nine months of pregnancy”.[3]

The common factor between all these women? Besides the trauma of miscarriage, potential post-partum depression, and jail time… All live in El Salvador, one of the harshest country in terms of abortion laws to date. In El Salvador, the constitution itself recognizes human life as “desde el instante de la concepción” – ever since the instant of conception:[4] abortion is systematically a crime. This criminalization is further reinforced in the Salvadorian Penal Code, which states that participation in abortion procedures will lead to imprisonment. This chapter of the code, part of a section relating to offenses related to human life, identifies multiple individuals who may be affected by legal repercussions if involved with abortion procedures, whether directly or indirectly. Even the act of providing secondary sources of help to aid the procedure can have someone in jail. Jail sentences vary, with the longest sentences for those who carry out the procedure without the woman’s consent. Imprisonment times can range from as low as 6 months up to 12 years.[5] Several real-life convictions, however, have led to jail terms of 30 or more years, perhaps due to the classification of abortion as ‘attempted murder.’

Although the right to abortion is not present in many countries, the laws are often more flexible in situations of rape or danger to the woman’s health. However, such situations are not accounted for in El Salvador’s constitution or penal code. Comparatively, many developed nations allow young girls to undergo abortions with no severe consequences, leading to a heightened feeling of safety and higher probability of good sexual and reproductive health. The small Central American nation is directly violating important human rights cited in international human rights law documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Carmel Shalev, expert member of CEDAW, points to the human right of autonomy applying to reproductive rights. She stresses that, “a woman seeking health care in relation to her fertility and sexuality is entitled to be treated as an individual in her own right – […] and fully competent to make decisions concerning her own health”.[6] Shalev also points to the fact that the illegalization of abortion has led to unsafe practices as well as inaccurate information regarding the success and side effects of the procedure[7].

Until El Salvador relaxes its current restrictions regarding abortion, women throughout the country will continue to practice bad reproductive health due to fear of legal repercussions. Despite the ongoing debate between pro-choice and pro-life parties in other countries such as the U.S. or Canada, the situation facing Salvadorian women is of much higher concern. These women have been stripped of their basic reproductive rights and, in cases of health complications, rape, or stillbirths, the lives of their lost children have unreasonably been given more importance than their own.

[1] "The Total Criminalization of Abortion in El Salvador." Reproductive Health Matters 22.44 (2014): 52-60. Center for Reproductive Rights. Web.

[2] Wilkinson, Tracy. "El Salvador Jails Women for Miscarriages and Stillbirths." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 2015. Web.

[3] Sherwell, Philip. "El Salvador's Las 17: The Women Jailed for 30 Years for Losing Their Babies by Miscarriage." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 16 Feb. 2015. Web.

[4] El Salvador. Constitución De La República De El Salvador, 1983. San Salvador, El Salvador, Centro América: Secretaría De Información De La Presidencia De La República, 1984.

[6] El Salvador. Código Penal. Decreto Nº 1030. La Asamblea Legislativa De La Republica De El Salvador.1973.

[3] Shalev, Carmel, Dr. "Rights to Sexual and Reproductive Health." UN News Center. Proc. of International Conference on Reproductive Health, India, Mumbai. UN, 15 Mar. 1998. Web.

[7] Ibid.

Bibliography

El Salvador. Código Penal. Decreto Nº 1030. La Asamblea Legislativa De La Republica De El Salvador.1973.

El Salvador. Constitución De La República De El Salvador, 1983. San Salvador, El Salvador, Centro América: Secretaría De Información De La Presidencia De La República, 1984.

Shalev, Carmel, Dr. "Rights to Sexual and Reproductive Health." UN News Center. Proc. of International Conference on Reproductive Health, India, Mumbai. UN, 15 Mar. 1998. Web.

Sherwell, Philip. "El Salvador's Las 17: The Women Jailed for 30 Years for Losing Their Babies by Miscarriage." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 16 Feb. 2015. Web.

"The Total Criminalization of Abortion in El Salvador." Reproductive Health Matters 22.44 (2014): 52-60. Center for Reproductive Rights. Web.

Wilkinson, Tracy. "El Salvador Jails Women for Miscarriages and Stillbirths." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 2015. Web.

Sketch by Michele Zampa


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