This week, a Salvadoran woman was released from prison after serving 11 years of her 30 year murder charge. So, why am I mentioning that as any kind of victory at all, let alone a bitter sweet one? Was it self defense? Was she innocent of the charges? The facts are much more convoluted and depressing than that.
She was convicted of murder because she had a stillbirth, and the courts decided it was all her fault.
You are certainly aware that women’s rights vary enormously across the globe, whether it be in regard to protections against violence, representation in government, or the right to bodily autonomy. In El Salvador, the abuse of women is reflected in the most draconian anti-abortion laws that can be conceived by man.
Not only is it illegal to get an abortion at any time and for any reason, but you will also be charged with murder not only if you seek an abortion, but even if you do not seek get enough prenatal care and have a stillbirth. I usually do not speak in black and white terms, but I literally cannot conceive of any way that they can make their anti-abortion laws even more extreme.
Luckily in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, she was not forced to serve the entirety of her sentence. I am happy that she is now free, but I am also deeply depressed as to the details surrounding her release, hence my description of the case.
A woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder after having a stillbirth has been freed in El Salvador in a case highlighting the dire consequences of the Central American country’s total ban on abortion.
Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was released on Thursday after serving almost 11 years for a crime she has always vehemently denied. Her sentence was commuted by the supreme court on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she had intentionally caused the stillbirth, but her conviction was not overturned.
She was not released because the government of El Salvador has budged an inch from their horrific laws regarding women’s rights, but rather because they decided that she was convicted on insufficient evidence. Activists must and are still appealing these sentences on a case by case basis in order to try to counteract this gross violation of human rights.
Vásquez is the 16th woman to be freed as a result of appeals and campaigns by reproductive rights groups and lawyers working under hostile conditions perpetuated by the conservative media and powerful anti-abortion groups. A 17th woman, Mayra Figueroa, who was jailed for 30 years in 2003, will be freed next month.
This story is both happy and tragic. Happy for Teodora and her family, but tragic for all the women who still have to suffer under these brutal laws.