by Vickie Knox
Imprisoned for 30 years for having a stillbirth.
Denied life-saving cancer treatment when 6 weeks pregnant.
Forced to carry a rapist’s baby at the age of 12.
This is reality for women and girls who live under Central America’s abortion laws.
On 28 September, Central America Women’s Network publishes ‘Maternal Health, Reproductive Rights and the Criminalisation of Abortion in Central America’to coincide with the day of action and demonstrate solidarity with the 28 September campaign in Central America.
Abortion is criminalised throughout Central America.El Salvador and Nicaragua have the most stringent bans on abortion, which allow for no exception for cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother’s health or severe foetus abnormality – not even to save a woman’s life in immediate risk. Honduras and Guatemala share similar legislations although emergency abortion – to save the mother’s life – is permitted.
The effects of this criminalisation are causing widespread human rights violations and reflect systemic discrimination against women in the region.
Women and girls are forced to continue with pregnancies which endanger them and can be left to die from an ectopic pregnancy or obstetric emergency, denied life-saving treatment whilst pregnant if it could provoke a miscarriage and reluctant to seek medical help after a miscarriage in case they are accused of procuring an abortion.
30 years in prison for having a stillbirth
In El Salvador, this law has led to the arbitrary imprisonment of women who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. Abortion is punishable with up to eight years in prison, but if the foetus is deemed to have been viable the charge is habitually converted to murder, which carries a sentence of 30 to 50. There are at least 24 women currently serving sentences of 30 years or more for murder after having a stillbirth, and hundreds more who have been imprisoned for abortion. Young, poor women are disproportionately affected, and come under immediate suspicion when they lose a baby.
In 2005 20-year-old Sonia Tábora was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after went into premature labour at seven months, and was accused by a doctor of having an abortion. She was transferred from hospital to remand as though she were a dangerous criminal and convicted in a trial which did not meet international standards: no autopsy was carried out and the prosecution relied solely on the word of the doctor and did not present any direct or scientific evidence. Tábora had a mental breakdown and spent over 7 years in prison before being released on 14 August 2012, following a review of her sentence. Although she was released, she was not exonerated of the crime for which she had been prosecuted.
The criminalisation of abortion is killing women
It is accepted that the criminalisation of abortion does not stop abortions from taking place – it only stops safe and legal abortions; it leads to unsafe, illegal abortions, which may take place in unsanitary conditions, often result in complications and death and are one of the main causes of maternal mortality in countries when abortion is banned.
In the Central America region 95 per cent of all abortions are unsafe, including self-induced abortion and surgery conducted by non-professionals. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal death, with high mortality rates of between 100 to 120 deaths per 100,000 live births.
This 28 September – the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe Abortion – the Central American Women’s Network (CAWN) is calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in Central America and for safe and legal access to abortion.
28 September has been the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean for 20 years, and 2012 sees the campaign go international, as the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, with actions in the UK and across the World.