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

Oct 31, 2016, 4:26pm Kathy Bougher -

"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.”


Myanmar: Doctors say survey underestimates number of women dying from botched abortions

by Htike Nanda Win | Monday, 31 October 2016

Women denied the right to an abortion are injuring and killing themselves in an attempt to end their pregnancies, doctors and specialists say. In Yangon’s Central Women’s Hospital, it is estimated that from one-third to half of pregnancy deaths occur because of botched abortions, often carried out by the women themselves.

The two main causes of maternal mortality are heavy blood loss after birth, known as menorrhagia, and related infections. Many of the women brought to hospital arrive too late to be saved, said obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Dr Soe Lwin, an associate professor at the hospital.

“Of every 10 pregnant women who die in our hospital, six have had unsafe abortions,” he said. “A patient suffering from menorrhagia can die within the hour. A woman who becomes infected after an unsafe abortion can suffer for a long time. And, if she is not brought to hospital in time, she will die.”

[continued at link]
Source: Myanmar Times

How should we talk about abortion in Russia?

How should we talk about abortion in Russia?
Abortion is no longer such a lightweight issue as it used to be in Russia. But moves towards banning reflect ultra-conservatives' desire for a witch-hunt, not changing public attitudes.

by Anastasiya Ovsyannikova
31 October 2016
Open Democracy

Abortion is back on the agenda in Russia. The recent appointment of Anna Kuznetsova, who is closely connected with a radical Orthodox anti-abortion movement (and who has sponsors in the Kremlin), as Russia’s new Children’s Ombudsman seems to have given a green light for another push against abortion. Patriarch Kirill recently signed a public petition calling for a ban on abortion. At the same time, Elena Mizulina, a prominent anti-abortion politician, has recently proposed excluding abortion from state healthcare. These latest developments, coinciding with mass protests in Poland against restrictions on abortion, have once again brought public attention to the issue.

It’s a paradox: the readiness with which the Russian public responds to anti-abortion rhetoric is not only a symptom of the emergent de-civilising atmosphere of the past few years, it’s also the flip side of the recent softening and “humanising” of attitudes in everyday life, which, despite everything, has been going on over several decades.

Continued: Open Democracy

Abortion by prescription now rivals surgery for U.S. women

Mon Oct 31, 2016 | 4:19pm EDT

By Jilian Mincer | NEW YORK

American women are ending pregnancies with medication almost as often as with surgery, marking a turning point for abortion in the United States, data reviewed by Reuters shows.

The watershed comes amid an overall decline in abortion, a choice that remains politically charged in the United States, sparking a fiery exchange in the final debate between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

When the two medications used to induce abortion won U.S. approval 16 years ago, the method was expected to quickly overtake the surgical option, as it has in much of Europe. But U.S. abortion opponents persuaded lawmakers in many states to put restrictions on their use.

[continued at link]
Source: Reuters

UN abortion case will only be settled “when the Irish government undertakes reforms”

30 Oct 2016
by Fionnuala Jones

Amanda Mellet took a case after she travelled to the UK for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality

The lawyer representing a woman who took a case to the United Nations over Ireland's abortion laws, says the case will only be settled when the Irish government undertakes the necessary reforms.

[continued at link]

Kenya: Abortion rampant in the country despite its illegal status

By Anne Mawathe For Citizen Digital
Published on 30 October 2016

The public health sector is reeling under the huge costs of treating medical complications arising from thousands of abortions procured illegally in Kenya every year. And now, doctors argue that legalizing abortion could prove useful in saving women from the harmful consequences of a practice that is thriving in backstreets despite it is illegal status.

Livingstonia Synod disowns Malawi Council of Churches on abortion: Rev Maulana courts controversy

October 30, 2016, Thom Chiumia - Nyasa Times

The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia has said it is not part of Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) leadership position on abortion, stating that the position of the Synod on abortion remains no.

Last week, Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) executive board chairperson Reverend Alex Maulana during a 2 day consultation meeting jointly organized by MCC, an umbrella organization of 25 Christian denominations and 20 Para-church organisations, and IPAS’s coordinated Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) in Mangochi backed the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill arguing it would reduce maternal deaths.

[continued at link]
Source: Nyasa Times

U.S.: Being a doctor who performs abortions means you always fear your life is in danger

Threats and violence are no way to disagree

By Diane J. Horvath-Cosper October 29, 2015
Diane J. Horvath-Cosper is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and a family planning fellow in Washington, D.C.

The Planned Parenthood office in Thousand Oaks, Calif., one of several clinics that perform abortions where there has been fires or vandalism recently. (Rob Varela/The Ventura County Star via AP)

Every few months, I do an Internet search for my name, as recommended by a media-savvy colleague. In the past I’ve found myself in all the predictable places — among a list of doctors who graduated from my residency program, on my employer’s Web site, in various social-media posts. But in the stillness of a warm evening this past August, after putting my daughter to bed, I found myself in a new and terrifying place: an anti-choice Web site that claims I am part of an “abortion cartel.” In addition to my office address and links to find my medical license numbers, it features several photos of me. In one of the photos, taken from social media, I’m holding my then-15-month-old daughter.

Though the site claims to be “informational” in nature, the real purpose is clear. There is no better way to intimidate and incite fear than to target a family member, especially a child. The message is unambiguous: I’m being watched, and so is my daughter.

[continued at link]
Source: Washington Post

Ireland: Citizens’ Assembly calls for submissions on Eighth Amendment

Members of the public invited to make submissions by December 16th

Oct 28, 2016, Irish Times
Rachel Flaherty

The Citizens’ Assembly is calling for submissions from the public on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, a law that places the life of the unborn on an equal footing to that of the mother.

The assembly is a body made up of chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy and 99 citizens who have been selected randomly to examine a number of issues.

The Eight Amendment of the Constitution is the first topic up for consideration and will be discussed at the next meeting of the assembly on November 26th. The closing date for submissions is December 16th.

[continued at link]
Source: Irish Times

Ireland: Independent Alliance will rue abandoning abortion principles

Zappone operating in hostile environment rarely in tune to needs of women’s rights

Oct 27, 2016
Una Mullally

The alliance of Independent TDs supporting the Government may not be a formal party, but the way they are behaving has echoes of how smaller coalition parties end up getting absolutely crushed in subsequent elections.

We saw it with Labour in 2016 and with the Green Party in 2011. Is it unfair that smaller coalition elements get obliterated as a consequence of public dissatisfaction with government? Probably, but we hold those who run for election on a specific set of principles to a higher standard than the same old party politicians.

[continued at link]
Source: Irish Times