The Salvadoran government’s repressive total ban on abortion is blighting the lives of women and girls in the country, pushing them to unsafe, clandestine abortions or forcing them through dangerous pregnancies, Amnesty International said in a hard-hitting report out today. Those terminating their pregnancies could face years in prison.
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, who is in the Salvadoran capital, San Salvador, to launch the report, said:
“The horrific repression that women and girls in El Salvador face is truly shocking and akin to torture. They are denied their fundamental right to make decisions about their own bodies and are severely punished if they dare to do so.
“Shockingly, the ban extends even to cases where the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, meaning those too ill to safely carry a pregnancy to term face an impossible choice: trapped between potential jail if they have an abortion and a death sentence if they do nothing.
“The world cannot sit idly by and watch women and girls in El Salvador suffer and die. Amnesty International is calling on the government of El Salvador to decriminalise abortion on all counts. The government must provide women and girls with access to safe and legal abortion services at least when the pregnancy is a risk to their lives, health, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or in cases of severe foetal impairment.”
Children who have been raped denied access to abortion
The country’s repressive laws mean women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face between two to eight years in jail. The ban on abortion even extends to children who have been raped. The law forces everyone to carry a pregnancy to term, even though this can have devastating effects, both physically and psychologically.
A doctor who treated a ten-year-old rape survivor told Amnesty: “It was a very difficult case … she didn’t understand what was happening to her… She asked us for colouring pencils and it broke all of our hearts. We said: ‘She’s still just a girl, just a little girl.’ She didn’t understand that she was expecting [pregnant].” The girl was forced to continue her pregnancy.
50 years in prison for having a miscarriage
Natural miscarriages can lead to lengthy prison sentences
Amnesty’s report documents how in some cases women who had natural miscarriages found themselves prosecuted and jailed for decades. Under homicide laws, they face a potential sentence of up to 50 years in prison.
That was the case for María Teresa Rivera who is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence.
María Teresa Rivera, who already had a five-year-old child, did not know she was pregnant again when she was taken ill at the garment factory where she worked. She was found by her mother-in-law, bleeding on the bathroom floor and was rushed to hospital where a member of staff reported her to the police. Police officers arrived and began questioning her without a lawyer present.
In July 2012 she was tried and found guilty of aggravated homicide, despite serious flaws in the evidence against her. Her young son will be 45 years old by the time she is freed.
María Teresa Rivera is one of scores of women imprisoned on pregnancy-related grounds, including abortion and miscarriage. Some of the women have already served more than 10 years in prison. She, like most of the women in Amnesty’s report, comes from the poorest sector of Salvadoran society.
The repressive anti-abortion laws in El Salvador are indicative of much wider discrimination against women and girls in the country. Discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls also means access to sex education and contraceptives is near impossible, while judges are prone to questioning the credibility of women in court cases.
El Salvador is one of seven countries in Latin America where abortion is totally banned by law. The other six are Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname. Some of those countries, like Chile, are taking steps to reform their laws.
The case of ‘Beatriz’
The case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old woman from a rural part of El Salvador, became widely known last year. Beatriz has a history of lupus and other serious medical conditions. She became pregnant but the foetus she was carrying was anencephalic (lacking a large part of the brain and skull), a fatal condition which meant it would not survive more than a few hours or days beyond birth. She was denied an abortion even after taking her case to the Supreme Court. On 3 June last year, after intervention from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and international press attention, the Salvadoran government finally permitted Beatriz to have an early caesarean section. The newborn died hours later.