Press Release

IACHR Urges El Salvador to End the Total Criminalization of Abortion

March 7, 2018

   Contact info

IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the decision by the authorities of El Salvador to commute the sentence of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez and release her, after she served 10 years in prison for having suffered a miscarriage. The IACHR also expresses its concern over the fact that at least 26 other women remain in prison after having suffered obstetric complications, a result of the total criminalization of abortion in the country. The IACHR calls on El Salvador to carefully review the convictions in each of these cases and to amend the legislation that currently bans abortion in all circumstances, to bring it into line with international human rights standards.

According to publicly available information, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was arrested in 2007 after suffering a miscarriage at her place of work. She was accused of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On February 15, 2018, she was released by order of the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice and Security, after serving more than 10 years in prison. According to the information available, the court considered that there were “powerful reasons of justice, fairness, and of a legal nature” to commute this sentence and found that it was not possible to conclude based on the scientific evidence that the interruption of pregnancy had been the result of a voluntary action. The Commission had recommended the release of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez following its working visit to the country in November 2017.

“Teodora’s release is encouraging news, and we take that as a positive sign. However, El Salvador owes it to all women in the country to ensure that no more of them will ever be criminalized and jailed for suffering obstetric emergencies and miscarriages. In these situations in which a woman involuntarily loses a pregnancy, the imposition of these unjust penalties constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” said the President of the IACHR, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, who serves as Rapporteur for El Salvador and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women.

The Commission draws attention to the negative impact that laws criminalizing abortion in all circumstances have on the rights to life, personal integrity, and health, and on the rights of women to live free from violence and discrimination. In El Salvador, Article 133 of the Criminal Code prevents a woman from having access to voluntary interruption of pregnancy under legal, safe, and timely conditions when the pregnancy jeopardizes her life and health, when it is the result of rape, and/or when the fetus has deformities that are incompatible with life outside the womb.

The case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez is not isolated, and it illustrates a context of discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador. While the Salvadorian Criminal Code establishes sentences of up to 12 years for the crime of abortion, at least 27 women have been convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison after suffering obstetric complications. These convictions are handed down based on the suspicion that the woman induced an abortion and, in many cases, there are indications of apparent violations of the right to due process.

The IACHR calls on El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the enforcement of Article 133 of the Criminal Code; carefully review the convictions in each of these 27 cases mentioned, to ensure that each of the women had a fair trial, free of stereotypes; and, should it be established that this was not the case, release the women.

By placing a disproportionate burden on the exercise of the rights of women and girls and creating a context that facilitates unsafe abortions, the absolute criminalization of abortion in El Salvador ignores the State’s international obligations to respect, protect, and guarantee women’s rights to life, health, and integrity. The criminalization of women who have suffered obstetric emergencies and miscarriages also has serious repercussions for their children’s overall development, well-being, and access to opportunities on equal terms with other children and result in violations of their right to a family life free from unlawful interference.

During its visit to the country, the Commission obtained information regarding various bills to amend Article 133 of the Criminal Code related to the criminalization of abortion. In this regard, the Commission urges the Salvadorian state to take the necessary measures to end the criminalization of abortion in the country.

The IACHR calls on El Salvador, and on the States in the region that do not yet have an appropriate legal framework, to adopt legislation designed to ensure that women can effectively exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, with the understanding that denying the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in certain circumstances constitutes a violation of the fundamental rights of women, girls, and female adolescents.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 042/18