Hundreds of thousands of people join the struggle to put an end to El Salvador’s brutal abortion ban

Hundreds of thousands of people have joined together to call on El Salvador to scrap its shameful and discriminatory abortion ban which has resulted in women and girls dying unnecessarily and dozens being imprisoned for pregnancy-related complications, some for up to 40 years, said Amnesty International.

Today the organization’s Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosas, will deliver a petition containing more than 300,000 signatures to the office of El Salvador’s President Sánchez Cerén asking him to repeal the country’s abortion ban.

“For almost two decades women in El Salvador have suffered the consequences of this outdated, draconian law and now 300,000 voices from the global community join their struggle to stop the injustice. This is now a deafening chorus of concern that cannot be ignored. President Cerén must heed this call,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

This cruel and discriminatory ban has no place in modern society, where women and girls should have control over their reproductive and health decisions. The ban has led to women being incarcerated for decades for obstetric complications, and has pushed others to dangerous, clandestine abortions that often end in them dying.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director

Amnesty International members and activists around the world are joining local women’s rights groups to call on Salvadoran authorities to provide women and girls with access to safe and legal abortion services, at a minimum, when the pregnancy is a risk to their lives, health, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or in cases of severe foetal impairment.

The country’s repressive laws mean women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face between two to eight years in jail. The ban on abortion even extends to girls who have been raped. It effectively forces everyone to carry a pregnancy to term, even if this will have devastating psychological or physical effects. Medical practitioners also face jail terms if found to be facilitating abortions.

The ban has created a fear of prosecution so pervasive that doctors now call the police if women or girls present having miscarried. This has led to women being sentenced with aggravated homicide and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for nothing more than a failed pregnancy.

Amnesty International has been campaigning on the cases of 17 women, known as “Las 17” who have all been imprisoned for pregnancy-related crimes. One of those women, Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana received a presidential pardon in January after authorities recognized there were “judicial errors” in the original prosecution. She finally walked free from jail after seven years, on 22 January 2015. Another woman was released last year after having served her term, but 15 more remain behind bars.

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of all women and girls who have been imprisoned for having an abortion or criminalized for pregnancy-related complications.

“From Argentina to Switzerland people around the world are watching El Salvador hoping for justice to prevail. We will not forget the scores of women languishing in prison nor the rape survivors forced to carry their pregnancies to term,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“We cannot forget the women and girls staring death in the face, either because their pregnancy could kill them or because they are forced to under-go an unsafe, clandestine abortion. We can but hope this petition will remind President Sánchez Cerén and other authorities in the country that they must not forget these women and girls either. We won’t.”

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Five other Latin American countries have similar abortion bans, including Chile, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname. Of these, Chile is taking steps to rectify its statutes: In January, President Michelle Bachelet presented her Congress with a draft bill that would permit abortion when a mother’s life is at risk; if a foetus will not survive; or in cases of rape. If passed, the bill would reverse that country’s total abortion ban, implemented in 1989. In December the Dominican Republic decriminalized abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal impairment or when the mother’s life 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.

Report: On the brink of death: Violence against women and the abortion ban in El Salvador