Countries urge El Salvador to change repressive abortion laws

El Salvador came under pressure from nine countries at the United Nations last night to amend its repressive and out-dated abortion laws. The effects of these laws amount to institutionalized violence, torture and other forms of ill-treatment against women and girls, said Amnesty International.

A further 12 countries have raised concerns about continued discrimination against women in the country.

El Salvador was called upon at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to reform laws that bar access to abortion in all circumstances and send women to prison for having miscarriages or clandestine abortions.

“We have seen first-hand the devastating impact these laws are having on the women and girls of El Salvador, from women dying during clandestine abortions, to others imprisoned for more than 40 years after having suffered a miscarriage. Now representatives from various countries have joined us in saying enough is enough,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Among the countries calling for change was Spain which earlier this year scrapped its own draft legislation that would have limited access to abortion in the country. Spain told El Salvador, that “women and girls must have access to sexual and reproduction education” and that “all women in prison for having an abortion [must] be freed, [as well as those imprisoned] for miscarriage, and that their criminal records be wiped out.”

Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom also called on the Central American country to reform its abortion laws.

El Salvador’s restrictive laws mean women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face between two to eight years in jail. Medical practitioners face prison sentences of up to 12 years if found to be providing access to abortion services.

Amnesty International’s recent report On the brink of death: Violence against women and the abortion ban in El Salvador, documents how in some cases women who have had abortions or miscarriages have been prosecuted and jailed for up to 50 years for “homicide” or “aggravated homicide” after being reported to the police by their doctors.

On 25 September the organization launched a petition calling on the country to reform its abortion laws. It has already gathered more than 110,000 signatures worldwide.

The human rights organization is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all women and girls who have been imprisoned in for having an abortion or suffering a miscarriage.

In addition Amnesty International asks that women, including young women, have access to contraceptive information and services, a full-range of quality modern methods of contraception, and emergency contraception.

During the UPR many countries also mentioned women’s rights, high levels of gender-based violence but also positive steps taken by the government in establishing the 2012 Special Integral Law for Life Free from Violence for Women, which is intended to address discrimination and gendered violence.

“We are adding our voice to the calls from these UN member states who are asking El Salvador to decriminalize abortion, and to ensure access to abortion at the very least in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the life or the physical or mental health of the woman or girl, where the foetus will be unable to survive outside the womb, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

“Only by addressing these widespread concerns can El Salvador show itself to be a progressive, caring society in line with international human rights standards.”

El Salvador will now have time to consider the recommendations put forward and will announce which of them it will adopt in March 2015.

Background information

Other areas explored in the UPR included addressing issues of impunity for crimes committed during El Salvador’s civil war, improving prison conditions, and a call to ratify international human right standards including the Rome Statue.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council under which it reviews the fulfilment of the human rights obligations and commitments of all 193 UN Member States, with each State being reviewed every four and a half years. It is a cooperative mechanism, based on objective and reliable information, and equal treatment of all States. It is complementary to the work of the UN treaty bodies.

Amnesty International calls on all States to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances and provide legal and safe abortion at least in cases of pregnancies as a result of rape and incest and when the life or health of the woman or girl is at risk.

In March 2014, Amnesty International launched a global campaign to protect people’s right to make decisions about their health, body, sexuality and reproduction without fear of discrimination and without state control or coercion. The ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign urges governments to decriminalize abortion.