International Court of Justice May Pressure El Salvador to Change Abortion Ban


In El Salvador, Manuela has become a symbol of a rally of supporters of women's right to give birth.

On International Women’s Day, marchers carried banners in the image of Manuela along the streets of San Salvador. Manuela, the pseudonym of a woman who died in prison after an obstetric emergency, has become a symbol of supporters of women’s right to give birth. (Collectiva Feminista)

Approximately seven months after her pregnancy, Manuela died at her parents’ home in a rural Morozan area in northeastern El Salvador.

Her frightened relatives, who didn’t have a car, took her in a hammock to a hospital miles away. So the doctor asked her husband for a moody woman who was bleeding and had a lump on her neck. She said he emigrated to the United States.

The doctor called the police, assuming Manuela tricked her husband into inducing an abortion to remove the evidence. A policeman tied her to a hospital bed.

According to legal documents and court hearings, authorities later found a foetation that died at home. Within a few months, Manuela was sentenced to 30 years in prison for worsening murder.

El Salvador is one of the 20 countries in the world that has a total ban on abortion. In other words, the lives of rape victims and mothers are at stake. It is at the forefront of cases, including what happened to Manuela in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is part of the Organization of American States, and hopes that reproductive rights activists will bring about dramatic relief of abortion restrictions.

Women in El Salvador can face two to eight years in prison for having an abortion in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Women accused of ending an advanced pregnancy may be charged with manslaughter, murder, or worsened murder, including at least 30 years in prison.

The doctor performing the procedure may lose the license to practice and face up to 12 years in prison. According to court testimony and interviews, many doctors face social pressure to report suspected abortions.

Manuela, who had two sons, died of cancer at the age of 33, just two years after being arrested in 2008. After her death, she has become a symbol of activists seeking female reproductive rights.Some banners for events like International Women’s Day say “Manuela justicia y esperanza“— Manuela’s justice and hope.

At a press conference in March, prior to the hearing, Manuela’s eldest son, Santos de Jesus, said to others, “We don’t want this to happen because our children are suffering.” We have been suffering since we were little. I have a grandma, but it’s not the same. “

According to family lawyers, Manuela is a pseudonym and is used to protect relatives from stigma and violence.

The lawyer wants to receive family damages. This includes psychological treatment and an apology from the Government of El Salvador. They are also calling on the court to reconsider the conviction of a woman imprisoned in an obstetric emergency to ensure she is being treated fairly through the El Salvador judicial system.

People sitting in socially distant chairs are watching the hearing on the TV screen.

Locals in San Salvador will meet in March to see a hearing held online for the COVID-19 pandemic. (Collectiva Feminista)

Guillermo Ortiz, an obstetrician and gynecologist who worked for 20 years in a public hospital in El Salvador and testified in March at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, explained the horrifying work environment.

He said doctors were at risk of being considered an accomplice because they did not report any suspicions of abortion. As a result, even medical professionals who disagreed with this policy felt compelled to support it.

“They began to turn themselves to trying to prove whether the crime was committed, even when dealing with a miscarriage case,” Ortiz said.

He said police officers went into the examination room in search of a woman suspected of having an abortion and detained the woman who was still back in the hospital bed. Much of his work is to make recovering women more reassuring, given that they negotiate with the authorities, at least ask them to remove their handcuffs during the exam, or that hospital gowns offer little privacy. Included asking a female police officer to do so.

A lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a feminist group for regional development in El Salvador and a legal advocacy group headquartered in New York, said in court that a doctor who assumed Manuela was dishonest had passed on that assumption to the authorities. Activated a lawsuit against her.

At a hearing, Carmen Martínez, Latin American and Caribbean Regional Manager for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said police officers searching for Manuela’s home had abused her relatives.

A document detailing Manuela’s decision was written in Manuela. [the child], Take care of it and live for it as other biological mothers do naturally, “but instead” chose to act against nature itself. “

According to Martinez, the language represents a gender stereotype: “in the face of death,” a woman’s “best function is to sacrifice herself in the name of reproduction.”

El Salvador’s legal team lawyer, Elizabeth Urias, argued that in order to “protect boys and girls,” including the foetation, it was necessary to break the confidentiality obligations of doctors and patients in the maternity ward.

According to El Salvador’s non-profit citizen group to decriminalize abortion, 181 women in the country were charged with exacerbation of abortion or murder in connection with a foetation that died between 2000 and 2019. ..

inside that Latest reportThe group, entitled “From Hospital to Prison,” reported more than half of these women to authorities from medical professionals, and 27 were convicted of exacerbated murder after 30 to 40 years in prison. It says that it was. The majority of women were between the ages of 18 and 25, often poor, from rural areas and as poorly educated as Manuela.

According to Center For Reproductive Rights, 15 women have been imprisoned in a similar situation in El Salvador. Five others, including two minors, were charged with abortion or exacerbation of murder.

Evelyn Hern & # xe1; ndez, a rape victim in El Salvador, arrives in San Salvador and awaits a murder charge.

Evelyn Hernandez, a rape victim in El Salvador, arrived in a court in San Salvador after her stillbirth to await a sentence on murder charges. She was cleared in 2020. (AFP / Getty Images)

More than 20 years ago, El Salvador allowed abortions if the pregnancy was due to rape or was life-threatening for the mother. This procedure was also allowed if the foetation had a malformation.

However, in the late 1990s, El Salvador amended its constitution and criminal law. Under pressure from religious groups, lawmakers defined life as starting with a pregnancy and banning abortion, even if pregnancy is not feasible.

President Nayib Bukele has repeatedly expressed opposition to abortion.Last year he Mention Aborted as a “genocide,” he said, rape victims (including minors) should be forced to mature their pregnancies. Still, he expressed some anxiety about law enforcement.

“One of my opposition is that in countries like us, women are criminalized for miscarriage and are automatically accused of having an abortion because of their poverty,” he says. I did. “That’s what I think we can fight.”

The Manuela case, like the groundbreaking Roe v. Wade case in the United States in 1973, could have a significant impact on El Salvador’s abortion policy.

The Human Rights Court’s decision may be announced in September.

Many who oppose abortion are afraid that the case will succeed. In the conservative religious sector, the case has been the subject of considerable media coverage. For example, the Catholic News Agency has created content in five languages ​​for distribution in more than 100 countries, but warned that the incident could “give a green light to abortion in El Salvador.”

This story was originally Los Angeles Times..

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