EL SALVADOR – Interview with Sara García Gross: « In El Salvador, when a woman falls pregnant, she loses her right to life. »

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EL SALVADOR – Interview with Sara García Gross: « In El Salvador, when a woman falls pregnant, she loses her right to life. »

June 22, 2018
by International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion

El Salvador is ruled by what began as a leftist party and over the years has passed a series of policies in support of women’s rights. But on the subject of abortion there has always been silence. Although they were the first party to introduce an abortion law reform bill after 20 years in power, they then postponed the debate with the excuse of introducing other priority issues, which shows that fundamentalist pressure on them is strong and influential. Among the fundamentalists, there is not only the Catholic Church but also groups related to Opus Dei, who have organised campaigns to discredit and disparage our work on sexual and reproductive rights.

Pope John Paul II visited El Salvador; he was totally anti-abortion. Streets bear his name. Currently, there is a process of canonisation of Bishop Romero, which had already been declared a saint by the people, so it was not even necessary for the church to recognise him. The fundamentalist movement takes advantage of his popularity to promote anti-abortion messages.

Continued: http://www.safeabortionwomensright.org/el-salvador-interview-with-sara-garcia-gross-in-el-salvador-when-a-woman-falls-pregnant-she-loses-her-right-to-life/

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Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage

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Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage
"I'm so happy to be free and with my family. We need to keep fighting so all the other women can be freed, too," Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquin told Rewire.News on Wednesday.

Mar 14, 2018
Kathy Bougher

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, who was convicted of aggravated homicide after a miscarriage in 2003, was freed from prison in El Salvador on Tuesday after her 30-year sentence was commuted to 15 years. Figueroa is one of the “Las 17,” a group of Salvadoran women imprisoned following obstetric emergencies with sentences of up to 40 years.

“I’m so happy to be free and with my family. We need to keep fighting so all the other women can be freed, too,” Figueroa told Rewire.News on Wednesday.

Continued: https://rewire.news/article/2018/03/14/salvadoran-woman-one-las-17-freed-spending-15-years-behind-bars-following-miscarriage/

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‘Immoral sentence’: Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years

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'Immoral sentence': Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years
Supreme court commutes Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín’s 30-year sentence for murder, calling it immoral and excessive

Liz Ford
Tue 13 Mar 2018

A woman convicted of aggravated murder in El Salvador after suffering a stillbirth has been freed from prison, the second such release in the space of a month.

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, 34, had her sentence commuted by the ministry of justice and was released on Tuesday after serving almost 15 years of a 30-year sentence.

The court said it considered the sentence to be excessive and immoral.

Continued: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/mar/13/el-salvador-woman-jailed-stillbirth-set-free-maira-veronica-figueroa-marroquin

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Mothers caught up in El Salvador’s abortion ban put focus on families

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Mothers caught up in El Salvador's abortion ban put focus on families

The Latin American country has one of the world's strictest laws against abortion, and dozens of women say they were wrongly jailed after suffering miscarriages. As El Salvador debates loosening the ban, they're trying to change the conversation.

Catarina Fernandes Martins, Correspondent
August 3, 2017

San Salvador—Mirna Ramírez was arrested for attempting to murder her daughter on the day she was born.

Ms. Ramírez was seven months pregnant when she suddenly went into labor at home, where she delivered her daughter. Neighbors rushed to help and arrived right after the birth. Afterward, though, saying they suspected she had been trying to abort the baby, they reported her to authorities. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Continued at source: Christian Science Monitor: https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2017/0803/Mothers-caught-up-in-El-Salvador-s-abortion-ban-put-focus-on-families

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El Salvador Appeal court to decide whether to release Evelyn Beatriz, one of “Las 17”

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Appeal court to decide whether to release Evelyn Beatriz, one of “Las 17”

June 27, 2017
by International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion

“Las 17” are women in prison in El Salvador who had a miscarriage or a stillbirth but were sent to prison for illegal abortion and even for aggravated homicide in trials where the evidence base was very compromised. In a press release on 23 June, the Agrupacion de Ciudadana reported that the appeal against a sentence of aggravated homicide by one of the women, Evelyn Beatriz, would be heard in the Central Court of Cojutepeque on 23 June.
Evelyn, we are with you; Freedom for Evelyn, Stop criminalising women – outside the court, 26 June

The case was opened that day but originally deferred until 26 June. The hearing will now continue on 5 July.

At the age of 18, Evelyn Beatriz had a miscarriage, but she had not even realised that she was pregnant. When she went to the hospital for care, it was reported as suspicious and she taken to prison and charged. She had fallen pregnant as a result of rape in the community where she was living with her family. She was so frightened by everything that happened that she did not report the rape to anyone.

She is now supported by the many groups in the country involved in trying to get women released from prison who, like her, have not committed any crime at all.

SOURCE/PHOTOS: Las 17 El Salvador, 23 June 2017 ; 26 June 2017

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Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion: http://www.safeabortionwomensright.org/appeal-court-to-decide-whether-to-release-evelyn-beatriz-one-of-las-17/

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An End to El Salvador’s Years-Long Abortion Ban Could Be on the Horizon

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Oct 31, 2016, 4:26pm Kathy Bougher - Rewire.com

"This is not the 'Holy Inquisition!' This is the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in the 21st century, with sufficient knowledge to make decisions," said Lorena Peña, the current president of the Legislative Assembly, when introducing a bill to decriminalize abortion in some circumstances.

For the last 19 years, abortion has been illegal in all circumstances in El Salvador, leading to the imprisonment of dozens of women after obstetric emergencies. Now, a bill is up for debate in the Salvadoran legislature that would decriminalize abortion care in specific conditions—and while opponents want to push off the issue, local and international activists say such legislation’s time has come.

Lorena Peña, the current president of the Legislative Assembly, introduced the bill in the legislature on October 11. Peña is also a longtime activist in the leftist FMLN party and co-founder of the feminist organization Las Melidas.

Peña’s proposal would add a section to the criminal code, stating that abortions under four circumstances would not be punishable: for the purpose of saving the life of the woman and preserving her health; when the pregnancy is the result of rape or human trafficking; when there exists a fetal malformation that makes it non-viable outside the uterus; and in cases of statutory rape, with parental and patient consent.

“This is not obligating anyone, only giving an option to choose. It cannot be that in cases of rape, incest, statutory rape, that we obligate girls and their parents to continue with a pregnancy that is clearly the result of a crime!” Peña said while introducing the bill.

“Here in this institution right now, we have an employee who has been diagnosed with a fetus that is dead, and the doctors don’t want to remove it for fear of being accused of abortion,” Peña continued, referring to an anonymous employee in the legislature offices.

The bill had its first hearing in the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points on Monday, October 17. The committee is planning more hearings to discuss the legislation in the coming weeks.

El Salvador’s total ban on abortion has gotten increased attention in recent years, in part because of the work of local feminist organizations. For example, La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) has fought for pardons for “Las 17,” women who went to public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies and who were subsequently convicted of abortion or aggravated homicide. Some of “Las 17“—now sometimes called “The 17 and More” because of the continuing problem—were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. The Agrupación also supported “Beatriz,” a woman who in 2013 requested an abortion on her doctor’s recommendation because of her grave health problems during her pregnancy and because her fetus was fatally anencephalic. Her case went to national and international courts before doctors finally performed a procedure to deliver the baby, who lived for five hours.

“The Agrupación worked systematically over the years to make visible the consequences of the legislation prohibiting abortion, and based on the evidence we have gathered, we support [Peña’s] proposal,” explained Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, in an interview with Rewire.

In a press release supporting the bill, the Alliance for Women’s Health and Lives, an organization of 30 Salvadoran feminist and social justice groups, pointed to a United Nations Population Fund report noting 30 percent of pregnancies in the country in 2015 occurred in girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years old.

“This is particularly dramatic for the 1,444 girls between 10 and 14 years who were obligated to become mothers without having the necessary physical, psychological and emotional development,” the press release continued. “These pregnancies are the result of incest or abuse; all of them constitute crimes according to our legislation.”

The bill’s supporters have noted that Salvadoran legislation concerning abortion must be consistent with other legislation in the country protecting the rights of women and girls. In 2011, the legislature passed two laws concerning gender equality and the right to a life free of violence. Peña and her supporters argue that criminalizing abortion is not consistent with the letter nor the spirit of the two laws.

As Amnesty International detailed in its 2014 report, On the Brink of Death, the absolute ban also places El Salvador in non-compliance with several international agreements onto which it has signed.

In a public statement following the introduction of the bill, Peña explained the legal and medical urgency for the legislation. “In various cases the Constitutional Court [of El Salvador] has declared that it falls within the realm of the Legislature to regulate conflicts that derive on one side from the mother and on the other from the pregnancy, that can have grave consequences,” she wrote.

“We know that women with cancer are not given chemotherapies or dialysis if they are pregnant, nor if they have a pregnancy outside the uterus, in which they and the baby can die. [Doctors] wait to see who dies or they simply leave them unattended. Directives from the Gynecological and Obstetrical Association of El Salvador today affirmed that this is an ethical conflict for them to not be able to save the lives of many women because our legislation does not permit it,” she continued.

“This is not just a moral problem … but also a problem of public health, and it is a challenge to legislators of conscience to not evade the problem and to open the debate,” she concluded.

The bill, as its supporters have pointed out, would not decriminalize abortion in all or even most cases. Still, right-wing parties and organizations have condemned the proposal.

The conservative ARENA political party, for example, responded to the legislative initiative with a communique in which it reiterated its long-held position that “abortion is not debatable,” and “non-negotiable,”  and that it is “assassination.”

Sara Larín, president of the anti-choice group VIDA SV, claimed in an interview with the conservative Catholic news service ACI Prensa that it was “evident” the purpose of the legislation was to “distract” the population from other national problems, such as a financial crisis, with “blackmail over abortion.”

Ricardo Parker Velasquez, Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points member and ARENA representative, stated during the October 17 hearing, “My defense will be in favor of the value of life,” although he acknowledged that the information presented on the ban’s danger to women was “real.” Parker Velasquez in July introduced legislation to increase the penalty for abortion from two to eight years in prison, to 30 to 50 years in prison, as reported by Rewirea bill still active in the legislature.

The committee had the power to send the bill to “archives” at that October 17 meeting, essentially killing it, but it did not do so. According to Garcia from the Agrupación, the ensuing debate might continue for months or even years. To become law, it will need to be returned at some point to the full plenary for a vote.

No one party controls the Legislative Assembly, so either the FMLN or ARENA will have to make pacts with legislators from other parties in order to have a majority vote in favor or against.

And there are some cracks appearing in the opposition. A significant event occurred on October 12, when ARENA legislator Johnny Wright Sol acknowledged on his Facebook page the need for discussion:

The fact that abortion is illegal, not to say that it is a problem that does not exist, there are those who have the opportunity to choose to have an abortion out of the country or just do it discreetly [within the country], and there are those who do not have those resources and must resort to clinics … where they can even lose [their lives] …. In our country, abortion is a reality, [and] it always has been.

Constituents can also play a role in shaping the debate, as Alberto Romero, coordinator of the Movement for a Secular Society and Agrupación member, pointed out in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s not the custom in El Salvador to lobby legislators directly, but we are changing that slowly. The legislators need to hear the voices of the public in general as well as those who live in their districts who support the initiative. The ‘right-to-life’ organizations are very organized with online petitions and letters to legislators expressing their opinions. Even though we know the other side will be strong, we need to be vocal, and legislators need to know there are diverse opinions,” he said.

“What we have to make clear is that this is something that organizations have been working on for years, building alliances with organizations across the spectrum, with governmental human rights leaders, with international groups, and many others. There probably isn’t a perfect moment to introduce this, but now is when Peña decided to do it, and we support her. She runs a political risk with this type of action, but clearly she has the commitment and the willingness to use her leadership to promote rights of women.”

As Peña noted in her speech introducing the bill, El Salvador’s outdated abortion laws are out of step with the realities many Salvadoran women regularly face.

“I believe that in these cases that are clear abuses that are being committed every day in our country, that we should open our minds and our hearts a little more to have legislation that is less inquisitorial,” she said. “This is not the ‘Holy Inquisition!’ This is the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in the 21st century, with sufficient knowledge to make decisions.”

Source: Rewire.com

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El Salvador’s “Abortion Lawyer”

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By LAUREN BOHN
September 12, 2016

The congested road to El Salvador’s Ilopango Women’s Prison is lined with rundown snack shops and pink dogwood trees. Dennis Muñoz describes the concrete complex, which operates at 900 percent capacity, as “living hell.”

Few know the prison better than the 37-year-old lawyer. For the past eight years, he’s made countless visits to his clients there. In addition to being young and poor, the women all have one thing in common: they suffered miscarriages or complications at childbirth. In turn, they were sentenced up to 40 years in prison for aggravated homicide.

[continued at link]
Source: New York Times

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Making El Salvador’s abortion law more punitive would compound injustice

Salvadoran women take part in a demonstration against anti-abortion laws at the congress in San Salvador in April 2015. Photograph: Stringer/El Salvador/Reuters

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A proposed increase in the length of jail sentences for Salvadoran women who have an abortion would be a backward step for social justice and development

Kelly Castagnaro
Thursday 14 July 2016

A conservative political party in El Salvador wants jail terms for women accused of having abortions increased to up to 50 years. The dangerous proposed amendment to the country’s penal code, discussions on which begin in Congress on Thursday, would also increase sanctions and jail times for healthcare providers and others accused of “promoting” abortion services.

Since 1998, abortion has been illegal in El Salvador, even when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or puts the woman’s life at risk. Despite the ban, the Salvadoran health ministry’s information, monitoring and evaluation unit estimates that more than 19,000 clandestine abortions took place, a figure widely regarded as unreliably low. Adolescents comprise nearly a third of this number, further compromising their health and wellbeing in a region with some of the highest unplanned pregnancy and sexual assault rates.

Under the country’s “guilty until proven innocent approach”, women are serving criminal sentences for legal offences linked to abortion, fostering an environment of fear and despair among women and health providers. Local groups estimate that, to date, 17 women have been imprisoned as a result of seeking unsafe abortions and treatment for obstetric emergencies such as miscarriage or stillbirth.

In El Salvador, one of a handful of countries where abortion is completely illegal, women and girls’ lives are on the line daily.

The proposal to increase sentences for women who have had abortions is not only an egregious human rights violation, but also flies in the face of evidence showing that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of terminations. World Health Organisation research has shown that rates of unsafe abortion are likely to increase unless women are provided with access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception and safe legal abortion. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has identified the complete ban on abortion as a direct contributor to the country’s high maternal mortality rates.

Restrictive laws and the threat of criminal sentences deter service providers from giving women who experience obstetric or post-abortion emergencies the care and treatment they need. Consider the case of María Teresa Rivera. When Rivera went into early labour and began bleeding heavily one night, her family called an ambulance. The next day, she was taken to jail. Her “crime” was to have a miscarriage. She was recently freed after serving four years in prison. Where will women with few options and limited access to services turn?

The proposed law change comes at a time when the government has asked women to avoid getting pregnant for two years in light of the rapid spread of the Zika virus. Women are in a life-threatening catch-22 situation.

But the issue is not only a matter of reproductive rights and public health. In a region with staggering levels of inequality, young, poor, indigenous women are particularly likely to resort to unsafe abortion. The proposed legal change would only exacerbate this injustice and stall efforts to amplify social justice and accelerate national development.

Parliamentarians are playing a dangerous game. Banning abortion in all circumstances is deplorable; proposing increased jail terms for women who seek an abortion, or those who provide medical support, is simply shameful and irresponsible. Thwarting the proposed change will require strong leadership. Global human rights bodies, and women everywhere, will be watching.

Kelly Castagnaro is communications director at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, western hemisphere region

Source: The Guardian

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This Salvadoran Woman Served 4 Years for Having a Miscarriage

Shutterstock

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She may be imprisoned for countless more.

Maria Teresa Rivera didn't realize she was pregnant in 2011 when she went into early labor. The 28-year-old factory worker in El Salvador, who already had one son, started bleeding heavily late one night, so her family called an ambulance to drive her to the hospital. The next day, Rivera was taken to jail.Her crime? Having a miscarriage.

Rivera is one of a number of women in El Salvador incarcerated not for abortion, which is illegal, but as a result of miscarriages. An abortion rights group in the area has identified 17 people convicted of homicide, with sentences upward of 40 years, after facing obstetric emergencies such as miscarriage or stillbirth.

After serving four of her 40-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide, Rivera's conviction was overturned by a judge and she walked free this spring. But the prosecution appealed her release, and this week a three-judge panel will decide whether to hold a new hearing or throw out the charges for good.

Only six countries in the world, including El Salvador, ban abortion in all cases, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape or threatens the life of the mother. Nicaragua, Chile, the Dominican Republic, the Vatican city-state, and Malta are the only other places with similar prohibitions. In January, El Salvador's deputy health minister told women to avoid getting pregnant for two years because of worries over the effects of Zika virus.

"A woman who procures herself an abortion is running a very high risk," Carmen Barroso, the former regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in the Western Hemisphere, told Mother Jones. "She'll run the risk to her life because she'll have to have an unsafe abortion because they are so limited in availability. It is tragic."

The ban in El Salvador got international attention in 2013, when the country's highest court rejected the abortion request of a young woman, known only as Beatriz, with a potentially life-threatening pregnancy, ruling the "rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those" of the fetus. The fetus suffered from anencephaly, a severe congenital disorder where the fetus' brain and skull stop growing, giving it little chance of surviving outside the womb. The woman survived after getting a controversial caesarian section.

Despite the ban, more than 19,000 illegal abortions were reported in El Salvador between 2005 and 2008, according to the Ministry of Health's Information, Monitoring, and Evaluation Unit, an estimate that advocates say is low. Nearly a third of abortions performed were on adolescents, who make up a large percent of the region's unplanned pregnancies. According to the World Health Organization, 9 percent of maternal deaths in Central America are the result of illegal abortions.

As a result of the criminalization, women in El Salvador frequently face legal scrutiny for abortion-related crimes. According to research done by a Salvadoran advocacy group, between 2000 and 2011 about 130 women were criminally prosecuted for ending their pregnancies. That number doesn't include cases where the allegations were dropped or cases involving minors, whose records are sealed. Almost 50 women were convicted of either illegal abortion or different degrees of homicide, which carries a sentence of up to 50 years.

Then there are the cases of the 17 women who are part of "Las 17," as they're known, who are all, like Rivera, young, impoverished, and accused of losing their pregnancies on purpose. Guadalupe Vasquez, a housekeeper, was only 17 years old when she became pregnant from rape. She decided to keep the baby but lost it during labor. After her employer sent her to the hospital, she was reported to the police and eventually sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

Many of the women, including Rivera, were reported to the police by medical staff at the hospital. In some cases, neighbors or friends called law enforcement.

"I felt the need to go to the bathroom, I pushed, and it was the baby that came out into the latrine," Rivera said in a video from prison. She passed out from loss of blood and was in the hospital when she woke up. "Then they took me to this place," she said.

Rivera was convicted "despite the complete lack of evidence of any wrongdoing," according to an analysis of Las 17 cases by a Salvadoran lawyer and a Harvard sociologist. The analysis also concluded that Salvadoran courts systematically discriminated against the women by aggressively pursuing "the mother's prosecution instead of pursuing the truth."

"In stark contrast to the courts' findings, our analysis concludes that the legal and medical facts in the majority of these cases correspond with medical emergency—not with homicide," they wrote.

Rivera successfully appealed her conviction and has spent the last two months walking free.

"What worries me is leaving my son alone again," Rivera, who grew up in orphanages, told Rewire after being released in May. "I was forced to abandon him for four and a half years, and he suffered greatly during that time."

Source: Mother Jones

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