(Updated Jan. 21, 9:10 PM). Guadalupe pardoned by El Salvador's Legislative Assembly.
(Updated Jan. 20, 5 PM) — El Salvador's legislative assembly is scheduled to vote for a second time tomorrow, Jan. 21, on an initiative to pardon "Guadalupe." The first vote on Jan. 16 failed to pass by 1 vote.
(Updated Jan. 16, 11:45 PM) — What was expected to be a rubber-stamp vote of approval in El Salvador's Congress today came up one vote shy. Opposition lawmakers from the right-wing ARENA party refused to vote in favor of a resolution to pardon Guadalupe. As a result, she got only 42 votes — one shy of the 43 simple majority she needed to secure her release. For now, Guadalupe remains behind bars serving a 30-year sentence for murder for having a miscarriage in 2007.
Original story below.
Guadalupe was 18 years old when complications with her second pregnancy led to a miscarriage. She was working as a housekeeper for a well-heeled Salvadoran family, who kindly rushed her to the nearest hospital after she collapsed on the job.
Unfortunately for Guadalupe, the San Bartolo National Hospital is a public health clinic. Doctors took one look at her then called the police, who arrested her on suspicion of murder.
All forms of abortion are illegal in El Salvador. And though there was no indication that Guadalupe, a mother of one, intentionally terminated her pregnancy, the doctors snitched her out to save themselves from any criminal liability.
Guadalupe, who never saw the inside of a fifth grade classroom, was interrogated in her hospital bed without a lawyer. The Kafkaesque trial was brutal and swift. Before Guadalupe knew what was happening, she was sentenced to 30 years in jail and thrown behind bars with convicted murderers.
If Guadalupe’s story sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Not only does El Salvador have one of the most draconian anti-abortion laws in the world, but authorities there apply the tyrannical law with an aggressiveness that borders on obsessive. Dozens of Salvadoran women — mostly young, and all poor — are behind bars for homicide
The good news is that some government authorities are starting to realize the madness of their ways.
Today— on the 23rd anniversary of El Salvador’s Peace Accords — Congress will vote on a resolution to pardon Guadalupe, who has already served 8 years of her sentence. The vote, expected to be a rubberstamp approval following Monday’s unanimous ruling by the bipartisan Justice and Human Rights Commission, would be a major victory for Central America’s feminist movement.
“Guadalupe could be released from jail as early as next week,” Salvadoran feminist leader and former FMLN guerrilla fighter Morena Herrera told Fusion in a phone interview. “This represents new hope for us. Now we’re going to have to fight to get pardons for the others on a case by case basis.”
The “others” that Herrera is referring to are a group of young women known collectively as “The 17,” all of whom are serving sentences of 12-40 years. The oldest member of the group is 29, but many are in their teens.
And there are others. At least 29 Salvadoran women are currently behind bars for having illegal abortions, but a dozen of them are still appealing their sentences in court. The 17 women for whom the #Las17 campaign is named have exhausted all judicial options and must appeal for a political pardon. For some hardline feminists, that was a hard pill to swallow since the concept of a pardon still implies guilt and doesn’t address the systemic injustice of the situation.
“Unfortunately, we have no other alternative for those 17 women,” Herrera said.
Central America: a tough place to be a woman
El Salvador is perhaps the most punitive country in the world when it comes enforcing its abortion ban. But it’s not alone in its backwardness. Neighboring Nicaragua and Honduras have also outlawed all forms of abortion, including life-saving medical procedures to save a woman’s life.
Rounding out the hemisphere are Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname — all of which have outlawed all forms of abortion. That makes Latin America the most primitive region in the world when it comes to protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
Even countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan, hardly known for their enlightened treatment of women, allow life-saving abortions (not that I’d recommend you go there for one.)
Still, some see reason for hope in El Salvador. Unlike the intransigent Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the committed conservatives in Honduras, El Salvador’s left-wing FMLN has shown a recent openness to discussing the matter with rights activists, according to Marta Maria Blandon, director of Ipas Central America, an international organization working for women’s reproductive rights.
Blandon says El Salvador’s total abortion ban and “persecution of women” has become a scandalous and embarrassing matter for Salvadoran officials when they participate in international forums.
“Unlike Nicaraguan government officials who defend their country’s abortion ban, Salvadoran officials are embarrassed by it — none of them wants to own it,” Blandon told Fusion.
At the end of the day, she said, members of the ruling FMLN appear to realize that abortion ban is discriminatory against poor women and untenable for a left-wing government that likes to tout its revolutionary roots.
“This law is only for poor women — those who can’t afford to go to a private hospital,” Blandon said. “The proof is in the women who are in jail: they are all young, all poor, all vulnerable, all arrested in public health clinics. The law is abominable.”