El Salvador’s tough abortion law has been in the international news lately.
This morning, Trust Law told the story of a 27-year-old mentally ill woman who was sentenced to two years in prison for terminating her pregnancy. The woman, whose name has been withheld, went to the hospital this year with complications from an alleged self-induced abortion. She was arrested and in August a judge sentenced her to two years in prison for violating El Salvador’s complete ban on abortion, which includes cases of rape, incest, and when the health of the woman is at risk.
While in jail the woman tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrist with a rusty nail. Authorities responded by committing her to a psychiatric ward where “she now lies handcuffed in a hospital bed under the watch of an armed policeman.” Once released from the psychiatric ward she’ll have to return to prison.
Another case that has received a lot of international attention lately is that of Sonia Tabora, who is also mentioned in the Trust Law article. Ms. Tabora’s case is also tragic. In 2005 she was seven months pregnant when she went into pre-term labor. Family members found her collapsed and lying in her own blood so they rushed her to the local clinic where doctors delivered her stillborn baby. The doctor suspected that Ms. Tabora had tried to terminate her pregnancy and reported her to the police. Upon arrival the police handcuffed her to her bed and placed her under arrest. Later in the year a judge found her guilty of murder, a crime with a much stiffer sentence than the abortion law.
Family, friends and women’s rights activists fought her case for years and she was finally released from prison in August after spending seven years in prison and suffering a mental breakdown. Salvadoran human rights attorney Victor Hugo Mata Tobar, who has worked with Voices on a few issues, has defended several women pro bono, including Sonia Tabora, who have been accused of violating El Salvador’s abortion law or murder. Here are a couple videos about Ms. Tabora’s case – sorry, they are in Spanish:
In September, Morena Herrera told Contrapunto that she has identified at least 24 women who are currently incarcerated with 30-year sentences for violating the ban on abortion but were charged with murder.
Such aggressive enforcement of El Salvador’s abortion laws has a tremendous impact on women. Between 30 and 40% of women experience a miscarriage, but such strict enforcement of El Salvador’s abortion laws have created a chilling affect in which women are afraid to seek medical care and doctors are afraid to care for them without calling the police.
The issue is compounded by other women’s rights issue, including femicide (El Salvador has the highest rate in the world), sexual violence, economic disparity, and others. For example, in 2010, the Ministry of Health reported that 26,662 girls and adolescent women between 10 and 19 years of age were pregnant and accounted for 1/3 of all births that year. The same age group also accounted for 1/3 of all maternal deaths, 40% of which were suicides.