El Salvador upholds three-decade prison term for woman who suffered stillbirth

A Salvadoran court upheld a 30-year jail sentence this week for a woman who was convicted of aggravated homicide after suffering what she said was a stillbirth.

Teodora Vasquez, 34, has already spent 10 years in prison over the death of her child. Her case is a painful reminder of the injustices women face under El Salvador’s draconian abortion laws, Amnesty International said Thursday, one day after Vasquez’s appeal was rejected. 

“Teodora’s tragic story is a sad illustration of everything that is wrong with the justice system in El Salvador, where human rights seem to be a foreign concept,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director. “Instead of punishing Teodora for being a woman, authorities in El Salvador must urgently take a hard look at their outrageous anti-abortion law and take immediate steps to repeal it.”

Vasquez reportedly experienced intense pain while at work in 2007, and called for an ambulance before fainting. She awoke in a pool of blood, surrounded by police officers, who were arresting her for aborting her baby. She was convicted the following year.

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El Salvador upholds three-decade prison term for Teodora Vasquez, who suffered stillbirth
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El Salvador upholds three-decade prison term for Teodora Vasquez, who suffered stillbirth
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez waits in a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives to a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez is embraced by a supporter as she arrives to a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives to a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives to a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez speaks with her attorney as she waits in a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez waits in a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez waits in a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives to a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Women protest in support of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez outside the Isidro Menendez Courthouse during a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. The t-shirt reads in Spanish: "Stop violence against women". REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A woman protests in support of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez outside the Isidro Menendez Courthouse during a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. The sign reads in Spanish: "Teodora deserves to be back at home". REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Women protest in support of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez outside the Isidro Menendez Courthouse during a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 8, 2017. The sign reads in Spanish: "Teodora deserves to be back at home". REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez arrives at a court of justice for a sentence review hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Maria Elena Sanchez, mother of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, reacts upon hearing the verdict to her daughter's sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Supporters of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, react upon hearing the verdict of her sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Supporters of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, react upon hearing the verdict of her sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Supporters of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, react upon hearing the verdict of her sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Supporters of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, react upon hearing the verdict of her sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Maria Elena Sanchez, mother of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, reacts upon hearing the verdict to her daughter's sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Supporters of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for aggravated homicide after suffering a still-birth at work, react upon hearing the verdict of her sentence review hearing at the court in San Salvador, El Salvador, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez gestures at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center during a hearing to review her 2008 sentence -handed down under draconian anti-abortion laws after suffering a miscarriage- in San Salvador on December 8, 2017. The 30-year prison term, given after she was found guilty of 'aggravated homicide' for a stillbirth in her ninth month of pregnancy, is being challenged this week with her lawyer and rights groups calling for her to be freed. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR RIVERA (Photo credit should read OSCAR RIVERA/AFP/Getty Images)
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez (L) is hounded by the press at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center during a hearing to review her 2008 sentence -handed down under draconian anti-abortion laws after suffering a miscarriage- in San Salvador on December 8, 2017. The 30-year prison term, given after she was found guilty of 'aggravated homicide' for a stillbirth in her ninth month of pregnancy, is being challenged this week with her lawyer and rights groups calling for her to be freed. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR RIVERA (Photo credit should read OSCAR RIVERA/AFP/Getty Images)
Teodora del Carmen Vasquez (R) is escorted as she arrives at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center to attend a hearing to review her 2008 sentence -handed down under draconian anti-abortion laws after suffering a miscarriage- in San Salvador on December 8, 2017. The 30-year prison term, given after she was found guilty of 'aggravated homicide' for a stillbirth in her ninth month of pregnancy, is being challenged this week with her lawyer and rights groups calling for her to be freed. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR RIVERA (Photo credit should read OSCAR RIVERA/AFP/Getty Images)
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“The room was in tears when we heard the verdict,” said Amnesty’s El Salvador representative, Ina Strøm, who was in the courtroom. “The family is devastated. This is such a tragedy and the injustice is beyond words.”

Enacted in 1998, El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is among the strictest in the world. It does not exclude victims of rape or incest, or women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies. Girls as young as 10 have been forced to become mothers. Those like Vasquez, who have miscarriages or stillbirths, are regularly prosecuted and sentenced to spend decades behind bars.

El Salvador is one of six countries worldwide where abortion is outlawed without exception.

Abortion carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison, but authorities can change the charge to aggravated homicide in cases where a fetus or newborn dies, according to the BBC. That charge carries a minimum of sentence of 30 years.

Vazquez is among 27 women who are currently imprisoned for abortion-related crimes after suffering miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications, Reuters reported, citing the Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, a Salvadoran rights group.

In July, Salvadoran prosecutors sentenced Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz to 30 years in jail for committing aggravated homicide. The teenage rape survivor didn’t even know she was pregnant at the time of her miscarriage in April 2016.

The country’s criminalization of abortion has led many desperate women to seek out dangerous alternatives, a 2014 Amnesty investigation noted, including clandestine operations. Others have committed suicide.

The ban has also caused Salvadoran women to decline proper medical care when issues arise with their pregnancies, out of fear that their doctors will report them to authorities, as they are legally required to do.

“I was [bleeding] for just over two weeks. And I started to feel a little panicky because it was increasing. I was really afraid, because of all that going to see a doctor implied. The doctors have the power. The power to say: ‘I support you or I report you,’” one woman told Amnesty in 2013. “I was really, really afraid.”

As the Guardian reported, U.S.-based anti-abortion group Human Life International has been quietly providing funds to Sí a la Vida, a major Salvadoran advocate of the abortion ban, since 2000. Referring to the country’s anti-abortion stance in 2006, HLI’s then-president Rev. Thomas Euteneuer told the New York Times Magazine: “El Salvador is an inspiration.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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