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Salvadoran Woman Freed After 15 Years For Alleged Stillbirth: Abortion Laws Worldwide

On Tuesday, the El Salvador court released a 34-year-old woman who spent 15 years in jail for abortion crimes. Some see the woman’s release as a sign of abortion laws worldwide becoming increasingly sympathetic to women’s reproductive rights.

In perhaps a sign of a shift to more sympathetic abortion laws worldwide, last Tuesday the El Salvador court released a 34-year-old woman who spent 15 years in jail for abortion crimes. Maria Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was finally able to enjoy her freedom after her 30-year sentence was cut. Maria has always maintained that she suffered a stillbirth.

Figueroa lost her baby in 2003 after suffering pregnancy complications while working as a maid. She was taken to the hospital, but then arrested and convicted of murder. Figueroa has always maintained that she suffered a stillbirth.

Second abortion sentence reduction in El Salvador

Figueroa is the second woman to have her abortion sentence cut by the Supreme Court. A month ago, Teodora Vásquez was released after being jailed for nearly ten years. The 35-year-old woman was charged with murder after her baby was found dead.

Figueroa’s family, as well as journalists and activists, welcomed her back home. The woman stated that she wants to study law in order to help other women understand their rights.

“I want to study law to understand what happened to me and help other women,”she said.

According to the El Salvador’s laws, the punishment for abortion crimes is up to eight years in jail, but in many cases where the newborn has died, the authority changes the charge to aggravated murder, which can carry a minimum sentence of 30 years.

Doctors have to report to authorities if they interpret that female patients want to end their pregnancies. A failure to inform such a case is cause for long-term jail time.

El Salvador is not the only country in Latin America that has an absolute, unconditional ban on abortion. In most Roman Catholic nations, abortion is banned under all circumstances, but in Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico, women can get access to abortions without restrictions.

Abortion laws worldwide

Women in Latin America took to the streets to mark International Women’s Day and demanded justice for two central issues, femicide and reproductive rights.

Data shows that around 2,000 women in Latin American countries lose their lives every year due to unsafe abortions. The ban on abortion under any circumstance triggers women to choose backstreet abortions, which are often harmful to their health.

The UN report estimates that the Caribbean and Central American regions have the highest percentage of unwanted pregnancies at 56 percent. The total prohibition on abortion also leads to the increase in the numbers of women committing suicide. Many girls and women decide to end their lives because they are distraught over their unwanted pregnancies and the surrounding issues.

In Argentina, abortions are only allowed in cases of rapes, or if pregnancies threaten a woman’s life or health. The country’s government said it is considering holding a referendum on making all abortions legal.

Brazil also has a ban on abortions unrelated to rape or health issues. Latin America’s largest country also tolerates abortion in cases of anencephaly, which is the failure of the fetus’ brain and skull to develop.

Another heavily Catholic country, Ireland, is voting in May on whether to allow all abortions up to 12 weeks. In the 1980’s when the Catholic Church had more political sway Ireland passed the 8th Amendment to their Constitution which banned virtually all abortions.

Some see the shift towards an increasingly progressive Catholic Church and the weakening of the church’s power in political affairs as an opportunity to revisit abortion laws worldwide.



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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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