El Salvador: The Context After Arena’s Proposal
On July 11th this year, Representative Ricardo Velásquez Parker of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA), introduced a proposal to the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly requesting that prison sentences in cases of abortion be increased to 30 to 50 years. Currently, the law stipulates a prison sentence of 2 to 8 years.
The opposition party representative explained that this proposal seeks to align the Penal Code with the first article of the Constitution of the Republic that recognizes as a human person “every human being from the moment of conception.”
In the same way, he petitioned that the reform include prison sentences for up to two years for anyone who causes negligent injuries to a newborn, suspend doctors who cause damage to a fetus, and sentence anyone who sells abortive products for up to 3 years of jail time.
Abortion was legal in El Salvador in cases of rape, or if the health of the fetus or the mother were at risk, however, a law passed under the conservative government in 1998 completely outlawed any kind of abortion.
International organizations, such as the Center for Justice and International Rights (CEJIL), denounced and expressed concern about the recent ARENA proposal, which would increase legal penalties on abortion. The organization pointed out that it is evident that the current Salvadoran government, far from promoting a debate based on human rights and responsibilities that have been recognized through many international agreements, is instead promoting a climate of unnecessary repression.
“We are especially concerned about the far-reaching nature of these proposals, demonstrating that El Salvador is a State where the discussion is not focused on the protection of women’s rights. Furthermore, their intentions are to radicalize the measures which have been pointed out on several occasions,” sites CEJIL en their statement.
FCAM spoke with Joshi Leban, member of the Ameyalli Association of Young Feminist Women, about the situation in El Salvador after the ARENA proposal.
“There are certain topics that gain a lot of attention at the political level, for example the LGBTI agenda or the topic of abortion. Following the representative’s proposal, a strong campaign was started by anti-rights organizations, which are also related to some of the richest families in the country. They are families with a lot of power and influence, who believe they can make decisions about our bodies,” Ameyalli member Leban points out.
For Joshi, the proposal has awoken the feminist movement and organizations in favor of abortion. “We are in a phase of rethinking ourselves. We have to sit down and plan who we need to talk to, how we will get their attention, and reinvent ourselves in order to achieve the full expression of our rights,” Leban said.
In El Salvador, a recent UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) study conducted using data from the Ministry of Health (MINAL), Ministry of Education (MINED), the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), and the Department of Statistics and Censuses (DIGESTYC), indicates that in 2015 there were 83,468 pregnant women. Of these, 25,132 were adolescentsbetween the ages of 10 and 19.
“Teenage pregnancy provides a clue to the overall situation for the country. Every 7 hours an adolescent under the age of 18 gives birth. We believe that if penalties on abortion are increased, it will only make matters worse,” Joshi added.
The Ameyalli member considers that an increase in abortion penalties is not the solution to preventing women from performing clandestine abortions. The study, “From the Hospital to the Jail,” published in 2013, found that women who have suffered most from the criminalization of abortion are women under 25 years old, living in rural areas in conditions of poverty, who do not have stable incomes, and who have a low level of education.
“Increasing penalties or further legislating decisions about women’s bodies is not the solution. It is always the poorest women who suffer the most. Rich women can get abortions in other countries. Poor women cannot decide, but rich women can. If you give birth prematurely, or a women has been raped, or a woman has cancer she cannot make a decision about her own life. A woman with money can go to the United States or another country,” states Leban.
El Salvador has some of the most restrictive legislation on abortion in the world. Currently, at least 19 women are in jail because of the criminalization of all types of abortion, declared guilty of serious crimes, like homicide, and sentenced to long prison terms on the basis of weak or inconclusive evidence.
According to the Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical, and Eugenic Abortion, 129 women were charged with crimes of illegal abortion or aggravated homicide when their fetus died during the final months of pregnancy between 2000 and 2011.
“Increasing penalties on abortion would confirm that they can decide about our bodies. We live in a conservative country, where anti-rights organizations and the church have a lot of influence,” Joshi concluded.