ILOPANGO, El Salvador – The Salvadoran government released on Thursday from custody – after commuting their sentences – three women serving 30-year prison terms for allegedly undergoing abortions outside of hospitals in which their unborn babies died.
The trio includes Alba Lorena Rodriguez, Maria del Transito Orellana and Cinthia Marcela Rodriguez, who left a prison in the central city of Ilopango popularly known as the “women’s jail.”
Salvadoran Security Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said at a ceremony with the three women that the commutation of their sentences was based on the “favorable” ruling by the country’s Supreme Court and the National Criminological Council.
He said that the “basic reasons” for their release were “criteria of justice, morality and equity,” given that the judges who convicted them did not take into account “the (women’s) particular situations” of “complete vulnerability” and simply judged them on the crime of “aggravated homicide,” for which lengthy prison terms are imposed.
“We recognize the work of the organized women, who have pushed this struggle and today are seeing the fruits in the ruling we have issued,” he said, emphasizing that the Salvadoran state must “seriously evaluate the response it is giving to this social problem.”
The women – who said they were “happy” to obtain their freedom, adding that they were innocent of the charge on which they were convicted – had each served between nine and 11 years of the sentences handed down against them in 2009 and 2010.
“I feel very happy to have recovered my freedom, to reunite with my family,” Cinthia Marcela Rodriguez said in brief remarks, calling on Salvadoran authorities to also release 18 other women whose cases are similar.
Morena Rodriguez, with the Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, thanked Ramirez Landaverde for commuting the sentences and joined in calling for the release of the other 18 women.
She said that these women, with little schooling and very scanty financial resources, were arrested and charged – in effect – with having abortions because they had given birth outside a hospital and without medical attention.
She said that a woman who is “suspected of abortion is immediately condemned” because that designation is enough for Salvadoran authorities to remove “the presumption of innocence.”
She told EFE that such women come into the judicial system with the “stigma” of having had abortions and they are charged not with abortion but rather with aggravated homicide because that’s an “easy conviction” and helps the courts to increase the number of sentences they hand down.
El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname, Andorra and Malta are the only countries in the world that still absolutely prohibit abortion.
In October 2016, the governing leftist FMLN party proposed to Congress the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape, risk of death to the mother or fetal non-viability, but the opposition has called for increasing the penalty for abortion to 50 years behind bars.