Reproductive Rights Groups to Challenge Criminalization of Abortion in El Salvador

The Overbrook Foundation’s longtime grantee, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its Salvadoran partner, Colectiva de Mujeres para el Desarollo Local, have filed a new case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to challenge the absolute abortion ban in El Salvador.The case will use tragic experience of one Salvadoran woman to demonstrate how the criminalization of abortion has unjustly harmed women. In a press release on the new case, the Center for Reproductive Rights explains:

“From the moment Manuela, arrived at the hospital seeking emergency health care, slipping in and out of consciousness and hemorrhaging, doctors treated her as if she had attempted an abortion and immediately called the police. She was shackled to her hospital bed and accused of murder. Manuela was sentenced to 30 years in prison without ever having a chance to meet with her lawyer, without an opportunity to speak in her own defense, and without the right to appeal the decision. Shockingly, the judge overseeing her case said that “her maternal instinct should have prevailed” and “she should have protected her child.”

After several months in prison, it was discovered that the visible tumors Manuela had on her neck for which she sought medical care several times without being accurately diagnosed, was advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a disease that likely lead to the severe obstetric emergency she suffered. Tragically, Manuela did not receive the appropriate treatment for her disease and died in prison in 2010, leaving behind her two young children.”

After reading this devastating account, The Overbrook Foundation is pleased that these organizations will look to human rights mechanisms at the international level in an effort to pursue justice for Manuela and other women at risk as a result of this ban. The case will be the first of its kind before the IACHR challenging the imprisonment of women for suspected abortion due to an unsafe focus on abortion rather than the protection of several human rights and the provision of appropriate medical care. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a strong record for defending gender and human rights, as well as the power to increase international pressure on states ignoring their human rights obligations through the publicity of the commission’s decisions. Hopefully, a successful case at this level will encourage El Salvador, and maybe even other countries in the region with similar policies, to recognize the danger of its strict abortion laws and to ensure they are being held accountable for their record on human rights.

For more information, please see the press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights or a related article on the RH Reality Check.