RE: El Salvador: Citizen’s group called for legal action by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) as a woman accused of having an abortion died in jail. The group is further requesting a review of the case of another woman in El Salvador sentenced to 30 years in jail for seeking an abortion21 June 2012  [Posted on this listserve 17 August]

Having read this news item on the Campaign listserve a few days ago, the Central American Women’s Network in London has just informed us that there have been developments with regard to the case of Sonia Tabora, the woman jailed for 30 years – she has been freed. Here is their news release:

20 August 2012

A young woman has returned to her home in El Salvador after seven years in prison – for a miscarriage. Since the country’s stringent anti-abortion legislation was enacted in 1998, El Salvador has imprisoned 628 women accused of having a pregnancy termination. Sonia Tabora was one of them.

The Sonsonate court in El Salvador’s eastern region has recognised its mistake, following a review of Sonia’s case. The review was secured by the coordinated efforts of tens of Salvadoran civil society organisations, led by the Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion. These organisations labelled the judiciary’s mistake “state violence”.

Sonia was born in Sacacoyo, a village where 40 per cent of the population live in poverty. She experienced injustice at 18 when the man who had raped her was acquitted. And Sonia also had to survive a common experience for poor women in Central America of being abandoned by her partner after becoming pregnant.

Sonia hid her pregnancy from her employers for fear of losing her job as a maid. In February 2005, during a visit to her hometown when she was seven months pregnant, she unexpectedly gave birth without help in a coffee plantation. Sonia’s sister and father found her bleeding, in shock and speechless, and took her to hospital. But a doctor there reported her to police, assuming she had provoked the abortion. Sonia was later accused of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in jail.

The coalition of groups that campaigned for Sonia’s freedom believed her trial violated legal procedures. They challenged the verdict that she had caused the abortion, which was based on a single doctor’s word, despite lack of evidence or a post-mortem on the fetus.

El Salvador has one of the most stringent bans on abortion, which allows no exception in cases of rape, incest, a threat to the woman’s life or severe fetal abnormality. Neighbouring countries – Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala – share similar legislation, though the latter two nations allow therapeutic abortion to save the woman’s life.

Anti-abortion laws not only regulate access to safe abortion, but also ban the use of the morning after pill and restrict the content of sex education.

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.

The overwhelming majority of maternal deaths and imprisonment after abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth in El Salvador happen to illiterate women from poor, rural backgrounds – and they are primarily young women. Women like Sonia, who cannot afford a lawyer, are assigned a public attorney who, in line with a culture that penalises abortion, do not dispute the lack of evidence and only aim to reduce the sentence.

Although Sonia has been released, 24 other women remain incarcerated for miscarriage. Activists claim the outcome in Sonia’s case sets a precedent and pledge they will “continue to struggle for the freedom of other women prisoners in the country in the same circumstances”. Campaigners say a public debate has been stirred, with in-depth media analysis of the issue, and they seek to use this opportunity to overturn the strict ban on abortion.

Central America Women’s Network (CAWN)