Court in El Salvador Will Not Overturn Woman's 30-Year Jail Sentence Over Stillbirth

Image via AP
Image via AP

A 37-year-old woman in El Salvador has spent the last decade in prison on an aggravated homicide charge after suffering what she said was a stillbirth. Though Amnesty International was in court this week attempting to appeal the rest of her 30-year jail term, on Thursday the court upheld that sentence.


HuffPost reports that in 2007, a then-pregnant Teodora del Carmen Vásquez reportedly fainted at work, waking up to find that she had suffered a stillbirth and lost her baby. But in El Salvador, where there’s been a total ban on abortion since 1998, women who have miscarriages and stillbirths are often subject to criminal charges and trumped up prison sentences, and Vásquez was arrested and charged with committing an illegal abortion via miscarriage. She was convicted in 2008.

“Teodora’s tragic story is a sad illustration of everything that is wrong with the justice system in El Salvador, where human rights seem to be a foreign concept,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director, said in a statement. “Instead of punishing Teodora for being a woman, authorities in El Salvador must urgently take a hard look at their outrageous anti-abortion law and take immediate steps to repeal it.”

There are currently 27 women imprisoned in El Salvador for abortion-related crimes, according to Reuters, many of whom were charged despite having reported miscarriages and other complications during their pregnancies. Earlier this year the United Nations called on El Salvador to repeal its total abortion ban, which does not allow for exception even in cases of rape, incest, or in instances that could prove fatal for the mother.

Vásquez’s attorney, Victor Hugo Mata, told Reuters that his client’s case cannot be appealed again, but that her legal team will find out if they can prove the law was applied incorrectly. He’s not optimistic Vásquez’s fate will change.

“There’s not a lot of hope,” he said.




THIS is what we need to hammer home when pro-birthers talk about the unborn and sanctity of life. Being truly consistent in a “pro-life” manner means treating each and every miscarriage as a possible murder- after all, “someone” has died. The goalposts of this debate haven’t moved yet, the American pro-birth movement still focuses on the doctors, and is hesitant to advocate punishment for the women themselves. We need to get out in front of this, and ask each and every pro-birth politician and voter if they support mandatory police investigations into miscarriages. There is already US precedent- just a few years ago, a Virginian politician wrote a (failed) bill requiring all miscarriages to be reported to the police within 24 hours. Democrats need to take this, and what happens in El Salvador, to drive home to women that no one is safe. You may be married, you may want to be a mom, but if something goes wrong, the state is waiting for you.