Women's Rights

The horrifying effects of El Salvador’s abortion ban

This animation gives a quick snapshot of the impact of El Salvador’s complete ban on abortion on many women and girls.  Most people, whichever side of the abortion debate they normally find themselves on, would oppose a law so draconian that it won’t allow abortion even to save a woman’s life.  Because abortion can lead to long prison sentences in atrocious conditions, women may avoid seeking help if they have complications in pregnancy, and thus risk their lives. Even women who did not in fact seek an abortion are branded criminals.  Here’s a harrowing full report on the background and consequences of El Salvador’s abortion laws.

Teresa is one of many women who arrived at a hospital seeking help when faced with an obstetric emergency. Instead, hospital staff turned her over to the police.  We heard the sad story of a mother of a young woman who died rather than risk going to the hospital. “She was bleeding profusely but kept telling me not to take her to the hospital where she feared she would end up with charges of abortion.”  Other women in similar situations choose to take their own lives feeling they have no other option. In El Salvador, an unwanted pregnancy is the first cause of suicide for young women between the ages of 10 and 19. Teresa didn’t decide to end her life but instead, she faces a disproportionate prison sentence.

And here’s another recent report on the effects of El Salvador’s laws on teenage suicide rates in the country. The influence of the Catholic Church and other evangelical groups means that campaigners for a change in the law face an uphill struggle:

Mario Soriano, a medical doctor who heads the adolescent development programme at El Salvador’s health ministry, is a rare voice calling for change, in favour of easing the country’s abortion law.

“Here social and cultural norms are based on religious values, and not on a right-based approach,” Soriano said.

“Religious values often outweigh clinical ethics, as well as the law being applied incorrectly, which means you can get doctors denouncing women of inducing abortions and then calling police to the hospital.”