How Is a Woman Convicted Of Abortion In Salvador?

In El Salvador there is a story that has become familiar for a few years: a pregnant woman suffers a health incident that takes her to an emergency room to ask for help and, instead of receiving support, she gets a prison sentence.

Kenya, Karen and Evelyn are just three names behind those kinds of stories. In a country where abortion is criminalized under any circumstances, these Salvadorans spent several years in jail accused of aggravated homicide despite the fact that the interruption of their pregnancies was not provoked. Now, after their release in December 2021, they speak to the press about the consequences that the accusations against them continue to have on their lives.

Kenya’s life took a turn with a phone call. At 17, after feeling bad in the middle of her pregnancy, she decided to call the emergency room, but after being hospitalized in a public institution, she woke up on a stretcher with the news that she would be accused of having an abortion and that statement would lead to a 30-year sentence. from jail


“They deprived me of my freedom. It was something unfair. I lost my youth, I lost my family, all my dreams came crashing down,” she told dozens of reporters on Tuesday with a broken voice and tears in her eyes. According to her account, when she woke up she was surrounded by police officers who were taking photos of her and one of them threatened her. “He told me that he would see to it that I rot in jail and he did. He was the main witness against me. It was his version against mine; it was kind of tough,” she added.

Kenya spent nine years in jail and was released on January 17. Before her, on December 23, Karen, Evelyn and another woman named Kathy also left prison. They were all serving 30 years in prison and although President Nayib Bukele came to power thanks to the support of a conservative political party, his government was the one that allowed them to regain their freedom. So far the reason behind that decision has not been commented.

In the last decades, about 181 women who have experienced obstetric emergencies have been criminally prosecuted in El Salvador. Since 2009, with the struggle of the feminist collective, 62 have regained their freedom. Another 12 continue to face convictions.

Karen’s account is similar. At 21, already pregnant, she was alone in the house where she lived with her grandmother and she fainted from her. When she woke up in the hospital “she was handcuffed to a stretcher” and many policemen were taking care of her. She —she assures— she felt like a criminal, they asked her questions and Karen said that she tried to explain to them that it was an accident but they didn’t care. “They had already tried me,” she told the press on Tuesday. “Already in prison they also pointed me out. I was judged by the same compañeras who were imprisoned. It is difficult all this, ”she added.

Karen went to trial and like other women who do not have money to pay lawyers, “I was also sentenced to 30 years in prison being innocent.” Seven years later, she achieved her freedom and hopes to take advantage of it with her 14-year-old son. However, she assures that for now not everything is happiness. “I continue to be judged and singled out by society. They always look at us ugly, they make bad comments, but I keep fighting because my life project is to get my son forward.”

El Salvador is one of the four countries in Latin America that prohibits abortion without exceptions, along with Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Salvadoran law criminalizes all forms of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, and punishes women as well as doctors. If found guilty, the sentences vary from two to eight years. However, in many cases the crime changes to aggravated homicide due to the relationship of the victim with the perpetrator and women can be sentenced to up to 30 years.

Elsy experienced it first hand. In June 2011, as a 28-year-old single mother, she was working as a domestic worker when she felt bad and sought help, but instead of receiving medical attention, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of having induced an abortion and after a trial court case, which activists say is full of irregularities, was sentenced to three decades for aggravated homicide.

The struggle of feminist organizations that support women who are sentenced under this scenario benefited her and now Elsy is free, but her situation was an ordeal. “It was a very difficult 10 years that I spent in prison. I was away from my son, from my family. Now I want to move on to see my son grow up,” she assured.

Evelyn accompanied him at the press conference on Tuesday to narrate her story and also made visible the vulnerability that Salvadoran women suffer if they are pregnant and suffer an incident that leads them to lose their children. As she explained, the State condemns them “with an unjust law that criminalizes us for being women, for being poor women. I, like my companions, am innocent.

“This law condemned me and separated me from my son, from my family, for 13 years. My son was very young. It’s been hard for me to be away from them,” said the 34-year-old woman who was prosecuted in 2009.

“It is not against all women,” Morena Herrera, who heads the non-profit organization Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, which since 2009 has been investigating the serious problem that exists in this Central American country, told the press. Herrera said that the investigations confirm that the criminalization is exercised against young women, who live in a situation of poverty, with relatively low levels of education and with situations of vulnerability that prevent them from accessing an effective defense and health services.

Even when they get out of prison, the challenge they face is great. For Kenya, the dream of rebuilding her life at 26 years old and after spending almost a decade in prison, there is still much to do. “I got my family back and I don’t want to stagnate. I want to continue studying, study English, perfect myself in cosmetology so I can help my family.”

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