A Salvadoran woman who has been jailed for a decade since her miscarriage was ruled an ‘illegal abortion’ has pleaded for her freedom before a court revising her 30-year prison sentence.
“I am paying for a crime I didn’t commit,” Teodora Vasquez, 34, told the tribunal in San Salvador.
Since the Constitution came into force in 1999 under the conservative government, abortion in the Central American nation has been illegal, regardless of whether pregnancy results from rape or poses any medical threat to the woman. Prison terms range from two to eight years.
But police and prosecutors often charge suspects with far more serious crimes — such as in Vasquez’s case, in which she was convicted and sentenced in 2008 for aggravated homicide.
Abortion in the Central American nation has been illegal, regardless of whether pregnancy results from rape or poses any medical threat to the woman. Prison terms range from two to eight years.
She suffered a stillbirth in July 2007, in her ninth month of pregnancy, while at the school where she worked. She had tried to call paramedics, in vain, before falling unconscious. Police then accused her of inducing the miscarriage.
The prosecutor applied for the suspension of proceedings to have more time to study the case and to interview the arresting officers.
Her lawyer, along with rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have opposed the suspension and are calling for the court to annul the sentence in an international campaign.
The court has the options of scrapping the sentence, reducing it, upholding the original sentence, or ordering a new trial.
Vasquez’ defense lawyer, Victor Hugo Mata, says there were “glaring errors” in his client’s 2008 trial, not least the way in which the baby’s cause of death was presented.
El Salvador’s Congress has been debating for a year a proposal to decriminalize abortions in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or where fetuses are unlikely to survive.
The harshness of the current law was highlighted in 2013, when a 22-year-old woman was forced to give birth to a baby whose brain had not developed in the womb, and which was certain to die during delivery. The woman’s own health was also deemed to be at serious risk.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights gave a verdict allowing the woman to have an early cesarean section, after which the baby died.