Women Convicted for Stillbirths in El Salvador

by Vins
Published: Updated:

A woman in El Salvador who claims to have suffered a stillbirth was jailed for a period of thirty years due to the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.  According to a pair of December, 2017 reports from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Teodora Vasquez was jailed in 2008 with a sentence of thirty years.  In December 2017, Judges in the capital of San Salvador upheld Vasquez’s sentence.

El Salvador’s strict anti-abortion laws make it a crime to “intentionally induce an abortion,” which is the justification the prosecution used for the murder charge. The prosecution in Vasquez’s case claimed she strangled her child after birth.

However, Vasquez and her lawyer claim she suffered an unavoidable stillbirth. As Anastasia Moloney reported, “El Salvador is one of six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is totally banned, even in cases of rape, incest, when the woman’s life is in danger or the fetus is deformed.  It stands out for its strict enforcement of the law, with the region’s highest number of prosecutions of women accused of carrying out an abortion, according to local rights group, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.”

This case has sparked a controversy all over the world.  Nancy Northup, head of the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is supporting Vasquez’s case, said the decision “is another slap in the face for Teodora, who never committed any crime.” A spokesperson for Amnesty International, the human rights organization, noted, “El Salvador is punishing Vazquez ‘for being a woman.’”

The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion says Vazquez is among 27 women who are behind bars for abortion-related crimes when they actually suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, or pregnancy complications. UN human rights representative Liz Throssell said, “It is absolutely astounding, astonishing, appalling that these women are in essence being convicted of having a miscarriage, having a child stillborn.  They are basically being convicted for being women, for losing a child, and for being poor.”  As Tom Miles reported, the UN spokesperson further observed that women from wealthier backgrounds in El Salvador are not being convicted on the same grounds.

Among corporate media news outlets,  the BBC and Huff Post have provided some coverage of this story.  Although the BBC and Huff Post covered Vasquez’s appeal, including the involvement of her attorney, they offered little insight on the investigation of the crime. The Huff Post article drew on previous reporting by the Thomas Reuters Foundation.

Sources:

Anastasia Moloney, “El Salvador lawyer pledges to fight for woman jailed for abortion crime,” Thomson Reuters Foundation, December 14, 2017, http://news.trust.org/item/20171214192320-r1588/.

Tom Miles, “U.N. appalled at 30-year sentence for woman under El Salvador abortion law,” Reuters Foundation, December 15, 2017, http://news.trust.org/item/20171215141645-nahe3/.

Student Researcher: Helen Downie and Stephanie Rickher (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Advisor: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)