A principal demand of the marchers was a call for El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly to ease the country’s total ban on abortion. While the feminist struggle for full reproductive rights is nothing new in El Salvador, organising efforts over the past few years have gained momentum, found new openings, and are pushing forward the fight for women’s health, safety, and bodily autonomy.
In a PETITION that will be sent to Deputy Lorena Peña, President of the Chamber of Deputies, and 25 other senior decision-makers in the government, the Alianza por la Salud y la Vida de las Mujeres supports the four grounds outlined in the law reform proposal and gives a long list of reasons why.
El Salvador’s ruling leftist party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), has presented a bill to the national Congress to allow abortion in cases of rape or trafficking, when the woman’s life is in danger, when the fetus is so deformed that its life is unviable, and in cases of the sexual abuse of a girl who is a minor. Consent of the woman is required in each case, and the consent of the girl and her parents or legal guardian is required in the case of a minor.
El Salvador has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world. Abortion became illegal in 1998 in all cases, even if a woman’s life is at risk. Abortion charges carry a sentence of 2-8 years. Those who assist in an abortion can face 6-12 years in prison. A witch hunt in the country’s hospitals and courts means many women who suffer miscarriages or obstetric complications are held suspect for aborting their pregnancies.
Twenty-one members of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) in El Salvador submitted a motion on 11 July to the parliament for debate on 14 July to reform Article 133 of the Penal Code, increasing the penalty for women who cause or consent to an abortion from up to eight years in prison to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 50 years. This is equivalent to the current sentence for aggravated murder with extreme cruelty.
In an article about Zika virus in El Salvador, Dr Eduardo Espinosa, Vice-Ministro de Políticas de Salud, is quoted in a recent interview regarding the country’s abortion law saying: “It seems to me that this is a little archaic, and that it is not fair.” He was also said to have called on women’s rights groups to lead a pro-choice debate and put pressure on lawmakers to ease the country’s ban on abortion.
In November 2011, María Teresa Rivera, one of Las 17, unexpectedly went into labour, giving birth in the latrine of her home. Rivera’s medical crisis led to her being charged with and convicted of aggravated homicide, and she was sentenced in 2012 to 40 years in prison. On 20 May, the Third Court, recognized that the court’s conviction of her in 2012 was a judicial error. The previous judgment was therefore annulled and she was immediately granted her freedom.
On May 11, Flor Arely González was acquitted of aggravated homicide by a judge of the Trial Court of Sonsonate, an offence she was charged with after she had had an obstetric emergency in mid-2015.
With the objective of contributing to the freedom and access to justice of Salvadoran women unjustly convicted under the criminal law on abortion in El Salvador, the symbolic tribunal “Justice and Reparation for Women” passed a resolution calling for the three women who were convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison to be freed.
In El Salvador, three cases of women unfairly convicted under anti-abortion laws are coming under renewed scrutiny after a campaign by reproductive right activists and relatives of the imprisoned women. However, in March yet another Salvadorean woman was jailed for an abortion she did not commit.