Abortion cases that could force El Salvador to lift its ban | New women

San Salvador, El Salvador – Lawyers are fighting for the release of one of dozens of women jailed for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador in a case that could indicate whether the country will be swept away by the “green wave” of abortion decriminalization in El Salvador. the region.

Sara, a Salvadoran woman identified only by first name to protect her identity, miscarried in 2012 at the age of 22 when she slipped and fell washing clothes. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide but maintained her innocence.

His call was scheduled for March 15 but was postponed due to a technical issue with the virtual hearing that has yet to be resolved. A new hearing date has not yet been set.

Sara is one of dozens of women currently imprisoned for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador, which banned abortion under any circumstance in 1998. Women’s rights groups say most of these women come from poor rural areas and experienced obstetric emergencies, not abortions. .

The United Nations has repeatedly denounced El Salvador’s criminalization of abortion suspects, including in a 2020 report that called for an end to the arbitrary detention of three women, including Sara.

Women hold up letters forming the word ‘abortion’ during a march to mark Women’s Day in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 2020 [Jessica Orellana/Reuters]

“If El Salvador really takes its international human rights obligations seriously, this is an opportunity to free Sarita,” said Paula Avila-Guillen, consultant lawyer for Sara’s legal team as executive director of Women’s Equality Center, an organization based in the United States. which supports the feminist organization in Latin America.

Abortion-related convictions violate due process, Avila-Guillen told Al Jazeera, and because of “the stigma surrounding these cases, these women must proactively prove their innocence.”

At an upcoming hearing, lawyers are expected to present new evidence from forensic experts who they say shows Sara’s miscarriage was natural and previous testimony was biased.

“Our hope is that the judge, after hearing this evidence, will determine that this changes the outcome of the case and that Sara is innocent,” Avila-Guillen said.

If released, Sara would join at least 15 other women who have been released from prison since 2018 through appeals, new trials and commuting of their sentences.

Manuela case

This month, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights also heard arguments in a case that could force El Salvador to admit that its policies violated the human rights of dozens of women imprisoned for abortion-related crimes. .

Women’s rights groups that lodged a complaint accuse the Salvadoran state of violating the right to life and health of Manuela, a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2008 after suffering from complications during childbirth.

Manuela, identified by a pseudonym to protect her family, died of cancer in 2010 while in prison. Women’s rights groups say she did not receive adequate medical care before her death.

The case calls for reparations for Manuela’s parents and sons, who live in poverty in rural El Salvador and suffered emotionally from Manuela’s imprisonment and untimely death. Manuela’s two sons were seven and nine when she was sentenced.

In a press appeal ahead of the hearings on March 10 and 11, Manuela’s son, Santos, now 21, called on Salvadoran authorities to take into account the harm suffered by children when they are suing women in these cases.

“I don’t want this to happen again because as a child you are in pain,” Santos said. He said his mother’s conviction left him and his brother orphans. “We had my grandmother but it’s not the same thing. We don’t have our mother’s love.

The case, which will be decided in a year, could also have implications that extend beyond Manuela’s family.

“We hope that this case will open the door so that these situations do not happen again and that no other woman has to go through it”, Catalina Martinez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that filed the case, said at the press conference.

Are the tides changing?

Past attempts to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador have failed, including two proposals in 2018 to allow abortion with certain exceptions that lawmakers failed to pass for fear of backlash from conservatives religious.

In El Salvador, Catholic and evangelical pro-life groups often coordinate protests and campaigns on social media against efforts to liberalize the country’s abortion ban. They argue that the victims in these cases are the unborn fetuses, rather than the imprisoned women or their families.

But women’s rights activists in the country are hoping the tides are changing.

A historic decision taken in December by Argentinian lawmakers legalize abortion With the unrestricted 14th week of pregnancy, women’s rights activists across the region have boosted.

El Salvador’s Vice President Felix Ulloa recently said in an interview with Univision presenter Jorge Ramos that lawmakers are reviewing the total abortion ban as part of a broader constitutional reform effort. , which currently enshrines the right to life from conception.

President Nayib Bukele has previously said he believes that no woman should be jailed for an obstetric emergency. His New Ideas party (Nuevas Ideas) won the majority of congressional seats in the February election, although the party’s position on legalizing abortion is unclear.

Bukele’s office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Feminist activists in El Salvador say they will continue to pressure lawmakers to loosen the abortion ban when new lawmakers take office in May. In the meantime, they are trying to help Sara and the dozens of women who have been criminalized and jailed for abortion.

“It is not a problem to know what color is the party flag in each seat. It’s a public accountability issue, ”Salvadoran feminist activist Morena Herrera said. “It has been clearly shown that the total ban on abortion harms Salvadorian society.”

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