12 Countries Call on El Salvador to Decriminalize Abortion

(PRESS RELEASE) Twelve countries denounced the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador this week as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the country currently being conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In statements to the Human Rights Council, the governments of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom called on El Salvador to amend its devastating and unjust ban on abortion without exception. The UPR is part of a regular assessment of United Nations member States’ compliance with international human rights obligations.

El Salvador’s abortion ban is one of the strictest in the world, and the country has repeatedly disregarded its obligations to ensure women’s reproductive health and rights. For more than 16 years, abortion in all circumstances has been criminalized, and countless women have been sentenced to years and even decades in prison under deplorable conditions—including some who simply suffered miscarriages. The Salvadoran government has opted to postpone responding to the UPR recommendations until the next session in March 2015.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The chorus of countries worldwide calling for El Salvador to end its unjust abortion ban is growing ever larger and louder.

“The Salvadoran government cannot ignore the calls any longer, and must not be allowed to evade accountability for the human rights abuses that countless women continue to suffer.

“Access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right, not a crime.

“We commend the 12 countries that have called on El Salvador to end the criminalization of essential women’s health care, and we stand with them in all efforts to bring reform and justice to women across the country.”

Prior to the UPR review, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Salvadoran partner Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council documenting how the total ban on abortion in El Salvador is putting the health and lives of women at serious risk. The report also condemns the Salvadoran government for delaying pregnant women’s access to life-saving medical care, such as Beatríz whose pregnancy was leading to kidney failure and Manuela a mother of two who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after experiencing obstetric complications and died less than a year after sentencing from untreated lymphoma. The letter urges the Salvadoran government to revise its laws to allow abortion in limited circumstances and to take steps to prevent women seeking emergency obstetric care from being reported to the authorities on suspicion of abortion.

“We hope the Salvadoran government uses this extra time not as a stall tactic, but to review the UPR recommendations and lay the groundwork to legalize abortion,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Now more than ever the international human rights community must continue to advocate and pressure the Salvadoran government to ensure women’s reproductive rights.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than 12 years to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. Recently, the Center and the Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban, and includes the personal stories of five women who were unfairly prosecuted for illegal abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies without receiving medical attention. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.