Last week, Guadalupe spent her first night at home as a free woman following seven years in prison. After mounting international and local pressure prompted the Salvadoran government to issue a pardon in her case, she was quietly released.
At 25 years old, Guadalupe has already been through more than any woman should have to endure. She was raped, and became pregnant as a result. After Guadalupe miscarried late in the pregnancy, she was unjustly accused of abortion and convicted of murder. Her sentence was 30 years in prison.
The day after her release, surrounded by supporters and human rights advocates, Guadalupe gave the following statement:
My name is Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana and today I stand before you with overwhelming relief and joy. I have been waiting and hoping for this day for more than seven years.
I was 18 years old when I suffered a terrible tragedy. I became pregnant after being raped, and then lost the baby before it was born. But when I was taken to the hospital—even though I had done nothing wrong—I was treated as a criminal.
Due to our country’s unfair abortion laws, I was prosecuted, convicted of homicide, and sentenced to prison for 30 years, even though there was absolutely no evidence that I had committed a crime. I have now spent most of my adult life behind bars for something I did not do.
When I was in prison at Centro Penal de Ilopango, I met other women like me. Women who had suffered terrible losses but are instead being treated like murderers. I wish to send a message of strength and hope to these women. I want them to know the world is now paying attention, and there are many people fighting for their release.
I would not be here today without many of these people. In particular—for their tireless support and advocacy—I would like to thank Morena Herrera and Sara García from la Agrupación Ciudadana, and my lawyers, Dennis Muñoz and Angelica Rivas. And I also feel immense gratitude for the other local, regional, and international organizations that have worked so hard to return me to my family and restore to me my freedom.
This is a day I have dreamed of for years and a day I will never forget. Moving forward, I simply ask for privacy and respect as my family and I attempt to rebuild the life that was stolen from us when I was unjustly imprisoned.
Guadalupe’s story is not unique. For more than 16 years, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances—even when necessary to save a woman’s life. The inhumane ban has resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages.
Guadalupe is one of “Las 17,” a group of 17 women who, under similarly tragic circumstances, have been charged with homicide and given 30 to 40 year prison sentences. Today, 15 of them remain imprisoned, many at the same severely overcrowded facility where Guadalupe was held.
On the same day that Guadalupe was released, Agrupación Ciudadana—a local advocacy group that has fought for the release of Las 17—confirmed that the Salvadoran government is refusing to issue any additional pardons of other similarly imprisoned women.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has been working with Agrupación Ciudadana for over a decade to expose the harsh consequences El Salvador’s ban has on women. Guadalupe’s pardon is the most significant government response we have seen to our efforts so far. The momentum is building.
Help us keep the pressure on. Let Las 17 know the world is watching—and that we stand with them.
We are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to call on El Salvador to release Las 17 and stop treating women in need of reproductive care as criminals. Add your name to the petition today.