El Salvador must release women imprisoned after pregnancy related complications

Authorities in El Salvador must end their ruthless campaign against women’s rights and immediately release a woman imprisoned after losing her pregnancy in 2007, Amnesty International said today ahead of a key Parliamentary vote on her case.

The country’s Parliament is set to vote this Friday on issuing the first pardon in the cases of 17 women imprisoned for pregnancy related issues.

Guadalupe, who was 18 years old when she was jailed and has a five-year-old son, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after suffering a miscarriage in 2007. She was accused of having an abortion, which is outlawed in any circumstance in El Salvador.

“Guadalupe’s harrowing story is just one example of how the authorities in El Salvador go to ridiculous lengths to punish women. She should have never been imprisoned in the first place and must not be made to spend another second behind bars,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“By criminalizing having a miscarriage and prohibiting abortion even when a woman’s life depends on it, El Salvador is simply condemning thousands to death or decades behind bars. This must change.”

Guadalupe is part of a group of 17 Salvadoran women serving terms of between 12 and 40 years in prison for pregnancy related complications, in a country that fully bans abortion and criminalizes girls and women’s sexual and reproductive choices.

Amnesty International has documented how in some cases women who had natural miscarriages – outside a hospital setting and without medical care – were prosecuted and jailed for decades.

Prejudice, unsafe evidence, and lack of effective legal defence are some of the common denominators of their flawed prosecutions and trials, the product of a hostile environment against women’s sexual and reproductive rights. In many cases, they were initially charged with abortion and subsequently with aggravated murder, which carries much longer prison terms.

The petition to pardon Guadalupe, filed in April by the Citizenship Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, highlighted due process and fair trial concerns. Among others, the fact that the forensic examination after the miscarriage concluded that the cause of death was “undetermined”, and that there was no evidence of her having provoked its death – this alone would make the conviction unfair.

In addition, when she was taken to a public hospital after the miscarriage, hospital staff reported her to the police who questioned her without a lawyer while she was still receiving medical care. She was not assessed by a psychologist at the time, so it was not possible for the judge to evaluate her state of mind during this interrogation.

“El Salvador has the opportunity to take a first step to repair the injustice done against these 17 women. All of them should be released immediately. The government must also put an end to the outdated and oppressive ban on abortion, as well as to protect women and girls against violence and discrimination,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas. 

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign to stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction by governments and others. Over 2014-2015 the campaign is working for change in people’s lives in a number of countries, including El Salvador. This campaign aims to remind world leaders of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive rights.