El Salvador: Woman Wrongfully Imprisoned after Obstetric Emergency is Denied Freedom

Dec. 13, 2017 – The San Salvador Second Tribunal of Sentence (Tribunal Segundo de Sentencia de San Salvador) has denied freedom to Teodora del Carmen Vásquez (37 years old), a pregnant woman who suffered a stillbirth and was wrongfully sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide.

 The Second Tribunal upheld her wrongful conviction. For now Teodora will remain in prison until 2038.
For nearly two decades, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances—even when necessary to save a woman’s life—imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. The ban has resulted in the imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages, who are then charged for having an abortion and wrongfully convicted of homicide.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This latest Salvadoran Court decision is another slap in the face for Teodora, who never committed any crime.
“The Salvadoran Court is perpetuating the criminal prosecution of women who suffer pregnancy complications—denying women their dignity, freedom and rights.
“El Salvador’s abortion law criminalizes and wrongfully imprisons women. Today the Salvadoran Court chose to deny Teodora her due process.”
In July 2007, Teodora was nine months pregnant and at work when she started feeling excruciating pain and called for medical assistance. Before help arrived, she started bleeding, lost consciousness and suffered a stillbirth. Police suspected she tried to end the pregnancy and was immediately imprisoned, leaving her leaving her three-year-old son behind.
There were multiple due process violations in Teodora’s case, and a lack of adequate public defense. Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2008 for aggravated homicide.
In October 2016, a group of congresswomen introduced a proposed amendment to the penal code that, if enacted, would allow women to access safe and legal abortion services when pregnancy poses a risk to their health or life and in cases of rape and fatal fetal impairments. In August 2017, another congressman proposed a similar amendment to the penal code. The amendments received wide support from the Alliance for the Health and Life of Women (La Alianza por la Salud y la Vida de las Mujeres)—a coalition of more than 30 human rights organizations and international human rights activists including la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalizacion del Aborto El Salvador. Both bills are still waiting for a vote within the Salvadoran Commission of Legislation and Constitutional Issues before they go to the full Congress for further discussion and a final vote.
In December 2014, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights launched the “Las17” online campaign calling for the release of 17 Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were accused of having illegal abortions and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17,” was released in December 2014 after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. In February 2015, Guadalupe was successfully released and pardoned, after serving seven years in prison. In May 2016, Maria Teresa was released after a judge ruled that there were violations of due process in her case. And in February 2016 Sonia Tábora was pardoned and released. The remaining women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences for crimes they never committed.
“The Center, Agrupación Ciudadana, and global partners will continue to challenge El Salvador in the courts and international human rights bodies until Teodora and the remaining women are freed,said Catalina Martinez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center. “This court decision will not stop us from fighting for Teodora’s freedom, Las 17 and all women who have been wrongfully imprisoned under the country’s draconian abortion law.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked to expose the consequences that El Salvador’s blanket abortion ban has on the lives of women. The Center, together with the Agrupación Ciudadana, filed two cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)– a principal human rights body for the Americas—on behalf of women wrongfully imprisoned due to the severe enforcement of El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban. The first case is of Manuela, a woman wrongfully imprisoned who later died from untreated Hodgkins lymphoma in prison. In April 2017, the IACHR announced it will hear Manuela’s case. Our second case filed in December 2015 on behalf of nine women is still pending.

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