By Linda Veazey, AIUSA Board Member
In 1998, El Salvador outlawed abortion under any circumstances, including cases where the life or health of the woman is at risk; where pregnancies are the result of rape or incest; and in cases of severe fetal abnormalities. El Salvador’s total ban violates the human rights of thousands of women and girls.
In cases like Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, some women have even been sentenced to several decades in prison even though they did not have an abortion! In 2008, Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after suffering a still-birth at work. Amnesty found that Teodora was presumed guilty after she received an unfair trial in which her family could not afford effective legal representation.
The total abortion ban violates women’s and girls’ rights and puts their lives at risk. The ban denies women and girls the autonomy to make decisions regarding their own sexual and reproductive health. It also endangers the lives of women and girls, such as in the case of Beatriz—a 22-year-old woman who was forced to endure months of medical complications and uncertainty even though doctors indicated that she might die if she carried her pregnancy to term.
In addition to endangering women’s and girls’ lives, forcing rape and incest survivors—some as young as 9—to carry out pregnancies is, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, tantamount to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The total abortion ban also causes women and girls to seek unsafe, clandestine abortions that frequently result in serious medical complications. Furthermore, if complications occur during clandestine abortion procedures, women and girls are afraid to seek medical help for fear that they will be arrested for violating the abortion ban.
The total ban on abortion has also created a climate of fear whereby doctors and other medical professionals feel obliged to report women who suffer from medical complications to the police for fear that they will be charged with aiding an abortion if they do not do so. Attorney Denis Muñoz has described the climate created by the abortion ban as a “witch hunt against poor women.”
Many of you have taken action on behalf of the women and girls in El Salvador. And most recently, the Amnesty International USA Board of Directors wrote a letter to Francisco Altschul Fuentes, the Salvadoran Ambassador to the United States, urging him to “help ensure that Teodora del Carmen Vásquez is immediately released” and “to help ensure the release of all other women incarcerated in El Salvador for pregnancy related complications.”
There is reason for hope. In 2015, the Salvadoran National Assembly agreed to pardon and release Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana, another women imprisoned following pregnancy complications, following an outpouring of support from Amnesty members and other activists around the world.
Teodora and her family also have hope, now that tens of thousands of Amnesty activists have written letters on her behalf as part of the 2015 Write for Rights campaign. Many people have also uploaded photos and messages of support to show their solidarity with Teodora. Thank you to everyone who has taken part in these actions!