Earlier this year, Amnesty supporters like you helped a young woman in El Salvador walk free after nearly a decade behind bars. Aged 18, Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana had been sentenced to 30 years in jail. For having a miscarriage.
Your support helped her then, and we need it now. Please, donate today and help many more women like Guadalupe – languishing in prison simply for suffering the loss of a pregnancy.
El Salvador has one of the world’s most draconian abortion statutes. It criminalises abortion on all grounds, including when the mother’s life or health is in danger, and in cases of rape. Women and girls cannot access an abortion even if continuing their pregnancy will kill them, or if their foetuses are not viable.
Most frequently, the law’s victims are patients in the country’s public clinics where doctors, fearing criminal prosecution, often call the police when a woman arrives in pain.
This is what happened to Guadalupe, whose lawyer, Dennis Muñoz, has characterised the abortion policy as a 'witch hunt against poor women'.
Punished for being raped
Guadalupe became pregnant after being raped. When she miscarried and was taken to a hospital in San Salvador, the capital, her doctors accused her of having intentionally terminated her pregnancy.
Despite the lack of evidence against her, she was convicted of aggravated homicide, and imprisoned.
Her case is hardly unique. According to the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion), an El Salvador-based advocacy group, 129 women were prosecuted for abortion-related crimes in the country between 2000 and 2011.
Of these, 23 were convicted of receiving an illegal abortion; 26 were convicted of homicide. Guadalupe is herself just one of 17 women ('Las 17') who between 1999 and 2011 were sentenced to up to 40 years in jail following reported miscarriages, most on charges of aggravated homicide.
While no official statistics are available, we estimate that at least five more women currently await sentencing on similar pregnancy-related charges.
In April, 'Las 17' became the focus of a global campaign when, after years of effort and having exhausted all other legal remedies, their lawyers requested a presidential pardon.
In January, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly granted a pardon, on grounds that due process had been violated in Guadalupe’s original trial. Additional cases will be brought in the coming months.
While this victory is encouraging, the fight is by no means over. Guadalupe, and all the women like her, should never be arrested in the first place.