Hundreds of women are serving prison sentences in El Salvador because they have had an abortion or miscarriage
Virginia Lopez Calvo works for the Central America Women’s Network
Sonia Tabora is being treated as a criminal but she is only a victim of Salvadoran discriminatory and fundamentalist policies.
After years of pressure, a coalition of feminist and women’s groups have guaranteed a revision of Sonia Tabora’s sentence of 30 years imprisonment for aggravated murder in El Salvador.
Sonia has already served seven years of the sentence having suffered a miscarriage in 2005, after going into premature labour with an obstetric complication.
That a 22 years old woman is being charged with murder after an incident over which she had no control is the result of an extremely strict ban on all abortions in El Salvador.
The ban, which does not allow any exception even in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother’s life or severe foetal abnormality, is the doing of Catholic fundamentalists who wield a great deal of political and economic influence in the Central American region and are thus able to dictate that contraception, the emergency (morning after) pill, sex education and abortion are immoral and illegal.
The fact that maternal death is high, with rates of between 100 to 120 deaths per 100,000 live births in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, all of which share similar legislation on abortion, and that a leading cause of maternal mortality is unsafe abortion (including attempts to provoke self-abortion), which amounts to 95% of all abortions in Central America, does not waiver the notion of morality of these religious lords.
The fact that hundreds of women are serving prison sentences because they have had an abortion or miscarriage (628 from 1998 only in El Salvador), and that the majority of those dead or imprisoned women are illiterate, poor and young, reflecting existing inequalities, has not affected the moral stance of the Church on abortion.
Sadly even governments in the region that implement progressive maternal health policies continue to hold harsh anti-abortion policies. This is the case in Nicaragua, which has health and nutrition programmes, as well as childbirth plans, training of midwives and a family planning and contraceptive programme but abortion has been illegal there on all counts since 2008.
The weight of the Catholic Church diktat not only reaches Central America but countries across the world, including in the ‘developed’ world. Irish women travel to the UK to undergo abortion, and the Spanish Conservative party, which took power in 2011, is now seeking to reverse legislation in order to prohibit abortion when the foetus is severely malformed.
Secular states should remain so and should make no mistake about democracy and economic growth automatically bringing sexual and reproductive rights for women, as patriarchal values remain unchallenged in poor and rich countries alike.
Virginia Lopez Calvo works for the Central America Women’s Network, based in London, and has spent many years campaigning against violations of women’s rights as a result of patriarchal values that aim to control women’s reproduction and sexuality and which perpetuate gender inequality.