SAN SALVADOR – After spending nearly 11 years in a Salvadoran prison on an abortion conviction, Teodora Vasquez finally had her sentenced commuted and now dreams of liberating other women jailed under similar circumstances before they wither away behind bars, she told EFE.
“I’d like for that part of life to be permanently erased from my mind, but at the same time I don’t because it reminds me of my struggle on behalf of (other imprisoned women),” Vasquez said, still emotional from her ordeal.
Following months of international pressure, El Salvador’s Supreme Court on Feb. 15 unexpectedly ordered her release after commuting the 30-year prison term she received in 2008.
In July 2007, Vasquez, who was nine months pregnant at the time, repeatedly – but unsuccessfully – tried to call for emergency medical assistance after being struck with intense pain while in the restroom of the school where she worked.
After a fainting spell, she came to and realized that she had had a stillbirth.
“I spent 10 years of torment, anguish and agony, 10 years being separated from my son, and nobody can give me back the lost time,” she lamented.
At the time of her arrest, Vasquez had a four-year-old son who was cared for by her family during the more than 10 years she spent behind bars.
Despite her ordeal, she said she was proud that she had earned her high-school diploma while in prison.
“I now have other goals and I want to achieve my dreams: I want to study law to defend” other women who are in jail for the same reasons, Vasquez said. “I am completely committed to fighting for them and doing everything I can to ensure their freedom before time passes and they wither away inside.”
According to women’s organizations, 23 women in El Salvador are currently serving sentences of more than 20 years for abortion.
The Central American nation is one of the few countries worldwide where abortion is outlawed even in cases where the health of the pregnant woman is at risk.