In El Salvador, abortion is always a “murder.” No exception. Rape, childbirth, or health reasons are not grounds for a woman to terminate her pregnancy medically. Not even when the abortion is spontaneous. “Esme,” a fictitious name used to protect his identity, is the latest example of a court’s tough hand in these cases: 30 years in prison for a miscarriage.
In October 2019, 28-year-old Esme was alone at home in the middle of the countryside when she was in a labor emergency. She sought help from a public hospital, but the fetus had already died, and instead of receiving help and support for the loss of her unborn child, doctors reported the case to authorities and ended up in custody. This Monday, a judge found him guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
If pregnancy is already a risk in itself, in El Salvador this risk is exacerbated by the danger a woman faces in nine months: if she loses her child, it is always her fault because she has not done enough to save her. And it is not a law that comes from the past and requires you to stay in the present despite your efforts. The legal basis for convicting a woman of a miscarriage comes from the 1998 revision of the Constitution, which put “human life from conception” under protection.
Since this constitutional amendment, 181 women have been sentenced in this Latin American country to imprisonment for miscarriage. The data comes from the Feminist Collective for Local Development (CFDL), which has been fighting for years politically to reverse the criminalization of unintentional abortions in the current pregnancy and to shorten the lengthy sentences legally imposed on women. According to the Citizens’ Group on the Decriminalization of Abortion (ACDA), 64 of these women sentenced to long prison terms were released.
In February, “Elsy,” another fictional name, returned home. Thus, the CFDL and other civil society organizations and activists celebrated his release after ten years and seven months in prison for a miscarriage. Like Esme, Elsy was 28 when her pregnancy went wrong and her life changed forever.
The legal support and commitment of the CFDL made Elsy the fifth woman arrested for the same reason and released after December. ‘Karen’, ‘Kathy’ and ‘Evelyn’ on Christmas Eve and ‘Kenya’ on January 17th.
Esmen’s verdict, the first in seven years, is the opposite of the current Salvadoran women and CFDL efforts. “It was a hard blow,” Morena Herrera, the organisation’s chairman, told France 24. “First to him and his family. Then to our battle. We are working to get El Salvador to end this chapter on the criminalization of women in emergency labor, but this sentence is a setback. “
“This verdict is a farce of justice,” Erika Guevara Rosa, Amnesty International’s director for the Americas, said in a statement Wednesday. “Experiencing a childbirth emergency is devastating to anyone, and it is up to the state when it happens to monitor and curb this suffering and not exacerbate it by criminalizing women.”
Revision of the Constitution
Exactly one year ago, in May 2021, the government of President Nayib Bukele, who came to power in 2019, presented a proposal to reform the constitution that included decriminalizing abortion in cases where a woman’s life is in danger or malformed. the fetus that makes life outside the womb impossible and in cases of sexual assault.
But in September, executive authorities received a petition from 75 conservative organizations calling for a halt to reform “by opening the door to abortion, euthanasia, the political agenda.” gay and the threat to religious freedom in the country, “while considering measures that” attack the right to life, family, and liberty because they force an ideological agenda against Salvadoran values and cultural identity. “
In the same month, a strong Catholic church also opposed the process. “In humanism, in addition to being Christians, we definitely support life from its birth to its natural death,” the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador said in a statement. “We cannot accept a constitutional reform that will create the conditions for legalization of abortion.”
The constitution of the Salvadoran Catholic Church contains “rocky” articles that “cannot be renewed” and “must be preserved as such” because they violate democratic values: “The Constitution, in accordance with the values and principles of our society, must defend the good of life and family.”
“This condemnation is the first during Nayib Bukele’s government, which had promised to end the systematic persecution of women who face medical emergencies during pregnancy,” the ACDA quoted by Efe as lamented.