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  • A woman who has an abortion or miscarriage can face up to 50 years in prison if she's found guilty of aggravated homicide in El Salvador.

    A woman who has an abortion or miscarriage can face up to 50 years in prison if she's found guilty of aggravated homicide in El Salvador. | Photo: EFE

Published 30 January 2018

Abortion has been illegal since the Constitution came into force in 1999 under the conservative government, even if a pregnancy is the result of rape or poses a medical threat.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) is urging the government of El Salvador to "review" prison sentences issued against 27 women found guilty of interrupting their pregnancies.

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The judges are suggesting a more flexible interpretation of El Salvador's strict anti-abortion laws, which make no exceptions even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or poses medical risks to the mother.

The maximum sentence in abortion cases is eight years, but women who have an abortions or even a miscarriage can face up to 50 years in prison if they are charged with aggravated homicide.

The IACHR delegate for women's rights, Margarette May Macaulay, said in a report that even women whose pregnancy was interrupted involuntarily, as a result of a spontaneous abortion or obstetric complications, are "condemned over aggravated homicide, grounded on the suspicion they may have desired the abortion."

In October 2016, the leftist government introduced a bill in Congress meant to amend the Penal Code, but conservative parties and anti-abortion organizations have opposed the initiative.

During a visit in 2017, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Salvadoran government to stop enforcing Article 133 of the Penal Code, which prohibits abortion in all cases.   

Four other countries in Latin America also have a complete ban on abortion: Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and Suriname. Only Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City allow abortions without restrictions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Chile and Bolivia recently eased their restrictions on abortion despite opposition from right-wing Christian groups.

Earlier this year, Bolivia legalized abortions within the eighth week of pregnancy. Chile, which previously banned abortions in all circumstances, has legalized them when a woman's life is at risk, in case of rape, or when a fetus is not viable.

Anti-abortion groups across Latin America receive millions of dollars from "pro-life" groups based in the United States, according to The Guardian.

U.N. experts consider the criminalization of abortion a form of discrimination based on sex and a "grave violation of women's human rights."

However, progress in the realization of reproductive rights across Latin America remains slow, with anti-abortion groups increasingly organizing and pressuring governments.

In Brazil, for example, evangelical lawmakers are pushing for an outright ban on abortion in all cases, including rape and risk to the woman's life. The measure is due to be discussed in Congress next year. 

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