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UN: Salvadoran Women Unjustly Imprisoned for Suspected Abortions

  • Lisa Schlein

Women protest outside a court, demanding that the government free women prisoners who are serving long prison sentences for suspected abortions, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Dec. 13, 2017.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging the government of El Salvador to commute the 30 year prison sentence of a woman convicted of “aggravated homicide” after her baby was stillborn in her ninth month of pregnancy.

Teodora Vasquez has been in prison since 2008 for “aggravated homicide,” a term used to prosecute women suspected of deliberately terminating their pregnancies. This week, an appeals court in San Salvador rejected her appeal to commute her 30-year sentence.

Vasquez was one of four women High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein met in a women’s rehabilitation center during his recent visit to El Salvador. All had suffered miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies. All are serving time in prison.

Teodora Vasquez, found guilty of what the court said was an illegal abortion via induced miscarriage, arrives in a courtroom to appeal her 30-year prison sentence, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Dec. 13, 2017.
Teodora Vasquez, found guilty of what the court said was an illegal abortion via induced miscarriage, arrives in a courtroom to appeal her 30-year prison sentence, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Dec. 13, 2017.

Zeid’s spokeswoman, Liz Throssell, told VOA the High Commissioner was very moved by the women’s stories and he is extremely upset by the Appeal Court’s ruling against Vasquez.

“It is absolutely astounding, astonishing, appalling that these women are in essence being convicted for having a miscarriage, for having a child stillborn. They are basically being convicted for being women, for losing a child and for being poor,” she said.

Throssell said women from wealthier backgrounds in El Salvador are not jailed under similar circumstances.

El Salvador has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world. Abortion is totally prohibited even if a woman’s life is at risk or if she has suffered sexual violence.

Throssell said about 150 women have been convicted of abortion-related offenses over the last decade. She says at least 41 other women have been convicted of attempted or aggravated homicide, like Teodora Vasquez, after suffering miscarriages or other complications. All are serving heavy prison sentences.

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