Miscarriage is not a crime
By Rajwinder Sahota, AIUK Country Coordinator for El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua
On 8 May, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez marked another birthday locked away inside her prison cell in El Salvador. Her crime? Having a miscarriage.
Teodora’s crime was suffering from a still-birth at work in 2007 and being accused of having an abortion. Her colleague, instead of coming to Teodora’s aid as she struggled with severe pains, alerted the police who arrested her on suspicion of murder. Teodora was handcuffed and escorted to hospital for urgent treatment.
In 2008, Teodora was found guilty of “aggravated homicide” and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Teodora has been in jail ever since and hopes of a pardon were dashed following an unfavourable judgment from the Supreme Court in 2015.
Teodora’s existence in Ilopango prison is lonely. She is deprived of receiving written correspondence from her family and longs for her sister’s monthly visit to the jail which, despite the financial struggle of funding the costly trips, acts as a major lifeline in the solitary confines of her cell.
The prison code is strict and Teodora’s sister can bring only one - maybe two if the guards allow - cards to strengthen Teodora’s courage. Amnesty supporters worldwide have sent solidarity messages to Teodora and she told us that the inspiring words have kept her hopes alive in her darkest hours.
Teodora’s birthday now only serves as a cruel reminder of another year she is forced to spend away from her friends, loved ones and young son.
Reformation of law sparks glimmer of hope
Teodora is one of at least 17 women who have been imprisoned for pregnancy-related charges in El Salvador. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances in the predominantly Catholic nation in Central America.
The draconian law has led many women and girls to seek backstreet terminations or consuming pesticides and inserting needles into their cervix in the desperate hope to end their pregnancies.
A recent development in the Salvador government aroused fear that many more women could suffer Teodora’s fate. In July 2016, the opposition party ARENA put forward a proposal to increase prison terms to a maximum of 50 years for having an abortion. This proposal is still pending a decision and is being threatened by a positive reform (penned by the ruling Farabundo Martί National Liberation Front in October 2016) calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in certain circumstances, including when a woman’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy is a consequence of rape. Politicians will soon debate the proposal in Congress and we will await its final passage.
Call for Teodora’s immediate release
You can mark Teodora’s birthday by tweeting the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and calling for her immediate release from prison.
Copy and paste any of the tweets below, or in your own words, and include the hashtag #TeodoraLibre:
- I demand Teodora is released - having a miscarriage isn't a crime @MiSeguridad_SV #TeodoraLibre
- Teodora doesn't deserve to spend another day in prison @MiSeguridad_SV - free her now! #TeodoraLibre
- @MiSeguridad_SV Ensure the immediate release of Teodora so justice is served #TeodoraLibre
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.