A Discriminatory and Dangerous Law that is Killing Women and Girls in El Salvador

December 8, 2014

Accused and charged with having an abortion after a miscarriage at 18 years old.
Accused and charged with having an abortion after a miscarriage at 18 years old.

By Chloe Horsma, Amnesty International USA youth activist 

Probably the greatest obstacle I’ve ever faced around my sexual and reproductive rights was a borderline-uncomfortable conversation with my mom when I wanted to look into birth control for the first time.  Many of my friends had similar experiences.  It seemed to me that this was how it was supposed to be–people making decisions about their own health and reproductive rights without hindrance or fear–and for a while, it escaped my notice that not everyone was so lucky.

Every day, all over the world, women and girls are denied the rights I’ve been able to enjoy.  There’s no reason that I should be the lucky one.  It’s only chance.  It’s only by some stroke of luck, or fate, or universal intervention, or whatever you want to call it, that I wasn’t born in El Salvador, where not only would I not be given access to resources and education about my reproductive rights, but my safety and freedom would be at risk just for my biological ability (and cultural obligation) to carry children.  Because in El Salvador, abortion is banned in every circumstance.  It’s a ban that forces women and girls to carry a pregnancy to term even if it will kill them.  And that could’ve been me.  And if it had been, I would hope that there would be someone who would fight with me for my rights.

The total abortion ban in El Salvador has been in effect for fifteen years.  That’s fifteen years of women in El Salvador losing their lives, whether to prison, to unsafe, clandestine abortions, to preventable complications, or–faced with impossible injustice and no foreseeable hope–by their own hand.  Even women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape are prohibited from accessing an abortion: one senseless act of violence is compounded by another, the second by her own government forcing her to give birth.

As hard as El Salvador might try to deny it, their laws will never fully stop women and girls from trying to access their rights.  It only puts them at more and more risk.  It’s the job of the state to protect their people, not threaten them and criminalize their fundamental rights.  And yet, this is what the law does.

If we allow the human rights of women and girls in El Salvador to continue to be violated, if we continue to let it happen anywhere, what’s to stop it from happening everywhere?  I look at all the women I know – my friends, my classmates, myself, the little girls I used to give swim lessons – and it’s clear that we must come together as a global community and take a stand for women’s human rights–including sexual and reproductive rights.

We need to take a stand for all the countless Salvadoran women and girls who are criminalized for miscarrying or needing an abortion; who have been raped and are forced against their will to carry their attacker’s child to term; whose pregnancy-related deaths could have been prevented if only their doctors had been allowed to act sooner.

For all of them, it’s long past time to call on El Salvador to strike down dangerous and discriminatory laws which violate the human rights of women and girls and subject them to imprisonment, injury, and death.

Join us this 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence to take a stand: demand El Salvador end the total abortion ban!