Twelve facts about the abortion ban in El Salvador

El Salvador has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Abortion is totally banned in all circumstances and harsh prison sentences befall those accused of terminating a pregnancy. 

Amnesty International’s new report, On the brink of death: Violence against women and the abortion ban in El Salvador, charts how these restrictive laws are destroying the lives of women and girls. It finds: 

1.        Women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face a prison sentence of two to eight years. Health care providers who assist them face up to 12 years in prison. 

2.        Women who have had miscarriages have been charged with aggravated homicide, a charge which can bring a sentence of up to 50 years in prison. Amnesty International has documented the cases of many women who have been sentenced to decades in prison after having a miscarriage. 

3.        El Salvador banned abortion in all circumstances in 1998. 

4.        Last year the National Civil Police recorded that 16 women and girls were charged with the crime of abortion, six of them were under 17 years old at the time of the alleged offences. 

5.        Because of the ban, clandestine abortions are common. According to the Ministry of Health, there were 19,290 abortions in El Salvador between 2005 and 2008. More than a quarter of them were undergone by girls under 18. The actual figure is likely to be much higher. 

6.        Common methods used by women and girls to terminate a pregnancy include: ingesting rat poison or other pesticides, and thrusting knitting needles, pieces of wood and other sharp objects into the cervix, and the use of the ulcer treatment drug misoprostol, which has become widely used to induce abortions. 

7.        According to the latest World Health Organisation figures, 11 per cent of women and girls who underwent a clandestine abortion in El Salvador died as a result.  However, due to the secrecy surrounding the practice the true figure is likely to be much higher. 

8.        Suicide accounts for 57 per cent of the deaths of pregnant females aged 10 to 19 in El Salvador, though it is likely many more cases have gone unreported. 

9.         A newspaper poll in 2013 revealed 74 per cent of people polled in El Salvador favoured an abortion when a woman’s life is at risk. 

10.        El Salvador has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America. According to the National Family Health Survey, more than one-fifth (23 per cent) of all teenagers aged between 15 and 19 in El Salvador have been pregnant at least once. Nearly half of them were under 18 and didn’t intend to get pregnant. 

11.        Last year the National Civil Police registered 1,346rapes of women and girls. Nearly two-thirds were aged under 15 or classified as “mentally incapacitated” and unable to give informed consent either because they were rendered unconscious or because of their mental health. 

12.        There is only one women’s refuge in El Salvador. It can accommodate just 35 women and children.