(PRESS RELEASE) This week the Swedish Migration Agency granted asylum to Maria Teresa, a Salvadoran woman wrongfully imprisoned after a miscarriage who was absolved and released in May 2016.
The Swedish Migration Agency is allowing Maria Teresa and her son to live in Sweden, as well as granting them the ability to travel out of the country and providing Maria Teresa a work permit. Maria Teresa and her son received asylum from Sweden due to the persecution she experienced in El Salvador for being a woman and for her involvement as an advocate for abortion law reform through the “Las 17” campaign.
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 Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center:
“Maria Teresa overcame a great injustice, but that didn’t stop the fear and intimidation she and her son felt in El Salvador.
“Women like her deserve the health care services they need without fear of imprisonment.
“We are grateful to the Swedish Migration Agency for granting Maria Teresa and her son asylum, and an opportunity for them to live in peace.”
In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, Maria Teresa went into early labor, experiencing heavy bleeding and ultimately miscarrying in a public restroom. Her family called emergency services and at the hospital the police were called on the suspicion that she induced an abortion.
Despite inconsistencies and lack of proof that Maria Teresa attempted to end the pregnancy, she was convicted of aggravated homicide and condemned to 40 years in prison on June 5, 2012. Had her conviction not been overturned, Maria Teresa would have remained in prison until 2052, while her elderly grandmother took care of her child. Her prosecution was widely condemned, including by the Ombudsman of Human Rights (Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) of El Salvador, due to the fundamental human rights violations that occurred during her trial.
Maria Teresa’s conviction was overturned on May 20, 2016 and she was released the same day, based on new facts that came to light as a result of scientific analysis performed on the initial evidence used to convict her. On June 20, prosecuting attorneys filed an appeal claiming that scientific advances do not constitute new facts and that the judge made an error in Maria Teresa’s release. In October 2016 the San Salvador Third Criminal Chamber (Cámara Tercera de lo Penal de San Salvador) rejected the appeal and upheld her release.
The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted an amicus brief to the Swedish Migration Agency supporting Maria Teresa’s request for asylum. The Center also provided two amicus briefs during the appeals process in her trial in El Salvador, one arguing for Maria Teresa’s freedom and the other proving that scientific advances are accepted as new facts in most jurisdictions.
In December 2014, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center launched the “Las17” online campaign calling for the release of “Guadalupe” and 16 other 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 2017 Sonia Tábora obtained her permanent freedom. The remaining women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences for crimes they never committed.
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 Agrupación Ciudadana filed a case in December 2015 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—a principal human rights body for the Americas—on behalf of nine women who had serious pregnancy complications and are now in prison due to the severe enforcement of El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban. The Center and 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. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial, and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.