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El Salvador Should Decriminalize Abortion

Some Women Accused of Having Abortions Convicted of Murder, Sentenced to 40 Years

In 2013, the life of “Beatriz,” a 22-year-old woman in El Salvador, was put in grave danger as a result of her pregnancy. But abortion is illegal in El Salvador. Trying to save her own life, Beatriz took her case to the Supreme Court – after all, her doctors deemed the medical procedure necessary for her to live – but the court ruled she could not have an abortion. Even the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervened, but it was not enough. Beatriz’s health deteriorated; the government delayed. Finally, Beatriz underwent an emergency Caesarean section, and the baby died several hours later. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, she has continued to have health consequences from the ordeal.

Women take part in a demostration against anti-abortion laws at the congress in San Salvador April 22, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

Abortion is a crime in El Salvador, with no exceptions – even in cases of rape or incest, where the pregnancy endangers the pregnant woman’s life or health, or in cases of severe fetal impairment. Anyone who has an abortion, and the medical providers who perform or induce them, can face drastic prison sentences. Women have been convicted of murder after being accused of having had an abortion, sometimes with prison terms for up to 40 years. For some of these women, having a miscarriage or stillbirth was used as evidence to convict them.

A bill was introduced in late 2016 to save women in the worst of circumstances. Under the bill, abortion would be allowed in cases of rape, when the women’s health is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable. But the bill faces serious political opposition.

On 17 February 2017, El Salvador will be reviewed for its compliance with what’s known as the “Women’s Rights Treaty” – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it ratified in 1981. United Nations experts have already urged the repeal of El Salvador’s punitive abortion laws  because of their detrimental consequences for women’s lives, health and well-being. UN human rights experts have underscored how El Salvador’s abortion law violates international human rights, and have urged pardons for women who faced prison due to the law.

El Salvador’s extreme, punitive abortion ban poses risks to women’s life and health. The CEDAW Committee should call on the El Salvador government to repeal the total ban on abortion, to pardon and release the women who remain in prison due to these regressive laws, and to establish protocols to ensure access to safe, legal abortions. The lives and rights of women and girls in El Salvador are depending on it.

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