SAN SALVADOR – A Salvadoran woman serving a 30-year prison sentence for aborting a baby she said was stillborn was released Thursday after spending 10 years in jail and seeing a series of appeals rejected.
The Supreme Court’s decision to commute Teodora Vasquez’s sentence came as a something of a surprise, as it was only two months ago that an appellate court upheld the penalty handed down in 2008.
Vasquez, according to a statement from the Citizens Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion, “suffered an obstetrical emergency” and after getting no response to several 911 calls, she ended up giving birth in the bathroom of the school where she worked.
The Supreme Court justices authorized her release because “there are powerful reasons of justice, equity and judicial character that justify favoring her with a commutation,” the association, which is assisting Vasquez, said.
The court found no scientific evidence that the baby’s death was due to “a voluntary act” on Vasquez’s part, the association said, noting that this is not the first case in which a woman has received a commutation after being sentenced for allegedly aborting a child.
In 2005, Isabel Cristina Quintanilla, sentenced to 30 years following a similar sequence of events, received a commutation three years ago.
El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname, Andorra and Malta are the only countries that continue to uphold an absolute ban on abortion.
In October 2016, El Salvador’s left-leaning governing FMLN party drafted a bill to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or health risks to the mother or where the fetus is not viable. The right-wing opposition, meanwhile, wants the maximum prison sentence for abortion to be increased to 50 years.