Center for Reproductive Rights Implores the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Address the Extent to Which El Salvador’s Absolute Abortion Law Criminalizes Women

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(PRESS RELEASE) This week the Center for Reproductive Rights along with local Salvadoran organization Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Ético, Terapéutico y Eugenésico filed a precautionary measure before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking for leniency and humane treatment of a mentally-ill woman incarcerated for undergoing a clandestine abortion. This precautionary measure request requires the Commission to rule on this issue as soon as possible, particularly in cases when the life of a person is at risk.    

The request was filed on October 14th on behalf of "Mery" (a pseudonym), a 27-year-old Salvadoran diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, who was convicted of inducing an abortion and sentenced to 2 years in prison. El Salvador has one of the most extreme abortion bans in the world—prohibiting abortion even when necessary to save a pregnant woman's life and imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians.

"The persecution of women by the judicial system and police force in El Salvador is devastating," said Mónica Arango, Regional Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The state of El Salvador is on a vendetta to criminalize women for their reproductive health choices—even mentally-ill women like Mery who have put their health and well-being at risk are being harshly punished with incarceration."

"The international community must work together to call for an end to El Salvador's draconian treatment of women and make a commitment to protect fundamental reproductive rights."

Mery induced an abortion on March 11, 2012, and soon after received medical treatment for complications from the unsafe procedure. The medical staff reported her right away to authorities and policemen arrived and shackled Mery to her hospital bed. She had a nervous breakdown at the hospital and was soon after diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

Even with her mental health deteriorated, the state of El Salvador still sentenced Mery on August 28, 2012 to two years in prison for inducing an abortion and was sent to Ilopango Women's Prison the same day. She attempted suicide a few days later by slitting her wrists with a rusty nail she found on the ground. Since September 5, Mery has been held in the psychiatric ward of Hospital Policlínico Arce under 24-hour supervision by armed policemen, which has thwarted her ability to receive allowed visits from her lawyer and her family, and has had a negative impact on her recovery.

The Center is asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request that the state of El Salvador remove the armed policeman from Mery's hospital room, as it is causing her psychological trauma, as well as to consider an alternative sentence for Mery to serve her time in a humane environment where she can recover mentally and physically. The Commission is expected to rule on the filing this week.

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. In 2000, the Center published its investigative report "Persecuted," denouncing how health services, together with police forces and the judicial administration system, threaten the lives and integrity of women who experience induced and spontaneous abortions, as well as the women who have suffered obstetric complications while giving birth.

On March 21, 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights and la Colectiva de Mujeres por el Desarrollo Local de El Salvador filed the case of "Manuela," a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after having emergency obstetric complications, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Manuela, who suffered from advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma and did not receive appropriate medical treatment for the disease, died less than a year after being sent to the Ilopango Women's Prison. Her death left her two small children orphans.

Abortion was once legal in El Salvador under a narrow set of circumstances, but even these limited exceptions were removed in 1998. Under current Salvadoran law, anyone who performs an abortion with the woman's consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for up to eight years.

A recent study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforced the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate is just 12 per 1,000.

More information about abortion restrictions around the globe is available at CRR's interactive World Abortion Laws map.