A group of Salvadoran Women opened up about their "nightmare" of experiences being convicted of abortion and being put in jail for years due to stillbirth and pregnancy complications, which Abortion rights activists said should serve as a warning for America.
"Any woman who arrives to jail accused of having an abortion is seen as the most evil, heartless being," said Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, a Salvadoran woman who ended up in prison for more than 10 years for what she always believed was a stillbirth. "This is the reality that we have lived, and I am not alone," she declared in an interview with AP News.
And, indeed, she is not the only one because El Salvador, an extremely strict Catholic country where abortion is not allowed in all circumstances, whether miscarriage, stillbirth or even rape, has already prosecuted at least 181 women who experienced "obstetric emergencies", according to the Citizen Group of Decriminalization of Abortion, an organization battling for freedom for women like Vasquez since 2009.
Vásquez can still recall vividly the night she lost her child. She was almost on her full-term of pregnancy then when she felt intense back pain, "like the crack of a hammer" while working in a school cafeteria. There was already a lot of blood while she calls 911 for the 7th time and then she fainted. When she awoke, she had lost the baby, yet instead of being given the chance to mourn, she was arrested for allegedly violating El Salvador's abortion law, one of the strictest in the world.
"From the moment we get pregnant, we become incubators. We lose our rights because the only possibility that we have of a life is taking care of the product inside us. It's violence against us," she strongly declared.
She gained her freedom from prison in 2018 after her sentence of 30 years was reduced and vowed not only to free others who went through the same nightmare as hers but also to help them cope and adjust to new lives. Today, Vasquez is the public face of the abortion rights movement in El Salvador named Mujeres Libres, which is Spanish for "free women", having the motto, "Don't let this history repeat itself."
More Nightmare Stories
More Salvadoran women, who were placed behind bars due to alleged abortion, and even their children, revealed their nightmare stories in another article written by AP News.
Karen, who was then 21, was alone in her grandmother's home when she fainted. She regained her consciousness handcuffed to a hospital gurney and found out she lost her baby. She was convicted of homicide in 2015 and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. She was called a murderer and told that she would rot in jail but she said that she never lost faith in God because she knew she was innocent. She only served 7 years.
Another woman is Cindy who was put in jail in 2014 after having a stillbirth in a bathroom of a shopping mall. Her education was put on hold. Worst, she was taken away from her son, whom she was only able to see after 4 long years.
When asked about her experience, she said, "What I reflect on the most is the losses. What makes you think the most is how are you going to start over? How are you going to recover time with your family?" Currently, Cindy is reunited with her son, living with her parents, and continuing where she left off in her studies, taking Tourism.
Imelda, not her real name, is a rape victim. She was repeatedly raped by her mother's partner from 8 years old until 18 when she got pregnant. She unexpectedly gave birth to the baby in a bathroom and fainted. The child lived but she was put in prison, accused of attempted murder due to how she gave birth. She was released in 2018 after the court find out that she did not try to kill her child. Imelda strongly believes that no rape victim should be allowed to carry a fetus that was a result of the hideous crime committed against her.
And there is Jesus, who, with his brother, was left in the care of their grandparents when their mother was arrested after losing her pregnancy. He was 8 years old then and his brother 5. His mother died in prison in 2010 because of cancer as she was serving a 30-year sentence.
Now 22, Jesus said, "Death! That's what the state of El Salvador caused when it sentenced my mom, it killed her and sentenced her children to a bad life."
Justice was served last year in November when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that their mother's lost pregnancy was caused by a complication called preeclampsia and that instead of treating her condition, the health workers "wrongly prioritized reporting her to authorities." El Salvador government was ordered to pay damages to Jesus and his brother.
Same Fate For American Women When Roe vs. Wade Is Overturned
"These states are going to live similar situations that women are living in El Salvador," Catalina Martínez Coral, Latin America and Caribbean director for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights states if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, which Abortion rights activists agree to, AP News also reported.
They said that the serious human rights violations against Salvadoran women should "serve as a cautionary tale for the United States, where more than 20 states are expected to ban abortion" if Supreme Court overturns the ruling.
Evelyne Opondo, senior regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights gave a message to the judges of the supreme court saying that they will never be able to end abortion. What will end will only be safe abortions, Global Citizen reported.
She further said that this can lead women to turn to unsafe abortions instead, running to backstreet clinics and quack doctors, hitting the poor and the marginalized the most.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 25 million unsafe abortions globally happen every year, which leads to about 39,000 deaths of women and girls and millions being hospitalized with complications.