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News > El Salvador

El Salvador: 'Manuela Case' Sparks Concern on Abortion Ban

  • An activist holds a sign that reads,

    An activist holds a sign that reads, "My body, I decide. Safe, legal, and free abortion", El Salvador, Sep. 28, 2020. | Photo: EFE

Published 11 March 2021

"Criminalization due to abortion disproportionately affects women like Manuela... young, poor, and rural women are being criminalized," an expert said.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Wednesday began a hearing to address the "Manuela case", which refers to a Salvadorean woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison on aggravated homicide charges for having an "out-of-hospital" birth. 


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The lawsuit holds the Salvadorean state responsible for arbitrary deprivation of liberty and violations of rights related to health, privacy, equality, and non-discrimination.

Besides suffering from lymphatic cancer, the medical records showed that Manuela had a "high-risk" pregnancy and suffered "an untimely out-of-hospital delivery" on Feb. 28, 2008. She also received "deficient" medical assistance from a team that approached the situation as abortion even if there were factors to consider otherwise.

"This is not an isolated case. It reflects structural problems... other people have been in similar situations... She did not have access to sexual education or to modern contraceptive methods," expert Laura Clerico said.

In 1998, El Salvador's Penal Code criminalized abortion and obliged medical teams to report suspected cases and even to question patients on issues different from health matters.

Obstetrician Guillermo Ortiz regretted that the 2018 reform violates professional confidentiality and creates a fear among women of going to health centers since they could be accused of abortion and sent to prison.

Manuela was caught "red-handed" while receiving medical treatment. She was convicted in 2008 and passed away at the age of 33 due to cancer in 2010.

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