NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Seventeen women are among those imprisoned in El Salvador for having abortions in a country where the procedure is outlawed in all circumstances. Their pardon requests have been winding through a lengthy process of legislative and judicial review and the pardons could come down to a decision by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who in June was sworn in.
The country’s National Criminology Council has so far sent the Legislative Assembly a non-public ruling on five of the 17 women. Lawmakers now must decide whether to recommend them for pardons to the president. As of July 22 the assembly’s decision has not been made public. The cases of the remaining 12 are presumably following along the same path.
Morena Herrera is president of La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, or the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, which on April 1 submitted the 17 requests for pardon to national lawmakers. She and others in the country say the women are unjustly imprisoned and are being detained in an overcrowded prison.
Since July 1 — the deadline for the government to issue a decision on the requests for pardon — Herrera’s group has been lobbying the government to produce an answer and has been trying to galvanize public pressure on the government to release the 17 women.
In May, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights determined that El Salvador‘s laws violate women’s fundamental human rights and ability to seek basic health care.
El Salvador is one of seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that considers abortion a crime in all circumstances and convicts women of aggravated murder. The judicial atmosphere extends suspicion to miscarriages or obstetric complications that occur in the case of high-risk births that take place outside medical facilities where they can’t be closely monitored.
In early July Herrera answered some questions about the situation in a phone interview with Women’s eNews from San Salvador. The interview was conducted in Spanish and Herrera’s answers have been translated into English by Kathy Bougher. RH Reality Check, a website providing news and commentary on reproductive health and justice issues, has been bringing the case to international attention and made our contact with Herrera possible.
The 17 are part of a group of about 30 women who at this moment are convicted or who are in the judicial process. The 17 are women whose cases have run out of other possible judicial actions under the laws of the country. So, the only possible alternative for them to gain their freedom is through the pardon.
We are also defending other women who are being charged in the system and some who have been convicted but still have possibilities with the appeal of sentence process for gaining their freedom.
We are accompanying seven women whom we have helped get out of prison. We’ve formed a group of freed women, offering support in reconstructing their lives, emotional support.
We think that all these actions contribute in some measure to sensitizing the public and the political authorities toward a change in law that benefits all women.
We’re working to change the law because we consider it unjust for women, but we know it is a long process that requires clarifying things for the public and winning over political will.
It is demonstrating some of the most serious consequences of the criminalization of women, especially young, poor women. It is attempting to repair the damage that this unjust law has caused the 17 women.
At the moment there are statements from the president of the republic about the need to open a dialogue that permits the establishment of basic social consensus around the regulations and solutions to this problem.
Karla Paola Avila is a Women’s eNews collaborator focused on Latin America.
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