A Salvadoran woman given a 30-year sentence for murder after suffering a miscarriage in 2007 was pardoned Wednesday night in a razor-thin vote in El Salvador's angrily divided Legislative Assembly.
To the applause of human-rights activists crowded in the public viewing chamber behind the glass partition, lawmakers from the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) were able to muscle together the 43 votes needed to secure the release of Carmen “Guadalupe” Vasquez, who was locked behind bars at age 18 for allegedly killing her unborn child in a country that has banned all forms of abortion. The vote to free her after more than seven years in jail came less than a week after the same resolution failed to pass by one vote last Friday.
The right-wing opposition immediately cried foul. Members of the ARENA party claim the FMLN pulled a fast one by forging signatures to force the issue to a second vote in violation of due process.
“You’re going to have to live with this,” hissed ARENA congresswoman Alejandrina Castro. “Abortion is just murder in disguise! Life starts at conception!”
“This is fraud and falsification!” protested fellow ARENA lawmaker Ernesto Angulo. “We are going to take this as far as we have to fight for justice.”
Justice, however, is a relative term in El Salvador. And for feminists and rights activists who have been fighting indefatigably on behalf of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, justice was finally served Wednesday night after years of appalling infringement.
Guadalupe’s precedent-setting pardon also breathes new hope into the regional feminist movement. Her release is the first of what rights activists hope will be more to follow.
Guadalupe was one of 17 Salvadoran women sentenced to 12-40 years in jail for having an illegal abortion, even though she insists it was a miscarriage. (Indeed medical examinations 7 years ago found no evidence of physical trauma that would suggest she had provoked the miscarriage.)
The plight of Guadalupe and the other Salvadoran women locked away for abortion and miscarriage has triggered a social media firestorm of international ridicule and condemnation for El Salvador.
Twitter users from around the world demanded Guadalupe’s release using the hashtags #Las17 and #IndultoYa, or “pardon her already!”
“Guadalupe’s harrowing story is just one example of how the authorities in El Salvador go to ridiculous lengths to punish women. She should have never been imprisoned in the first place and must not be made to spend another second behind bars,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “By criminalizing having a miscarriage and prohibiting abortion even when a woman’s life depends on it, El Salvador is simply condemning thousands to death or decades behind bars. This must change.”
While Guadalupe’s release doesn’t yet signal systemic change in El Salvador, it is a victory worth celebrating in a war that’s far from over.
Produced by Ian Bickis