An El Salvadorian woman who was sentenced to 30 years in jail for inducing an abortion was released this week after the Ministry of Justice commuted her sentence, deeming it to be “excessive and immoral.”
She had been in jail for 15 years of her 30-year sentence.
Thirty four-year-old Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was sentenced to 30 years behind bars, after her abortion was classed as aggravated murder in 2003. Since then, she has since spent her life in a prison in Ilopango, near the country’s capital of San Salvador.
Figueroa reportedly suffered complications in her pregnancy that resulted in a late-term stillbirth in the house she was working as a maid in 2003, and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
After examining her, he doctors at the hospital presumably informed authorities that they suspected she had performed an abortion and she was arrested, tried, and sentenced to jail for aggravated murder.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said that she was not assigned a defense lawyer until the day of her first hearing, and that she never saw or heard the forensic testimony or the medical examiner’s report.
Upon her release, she was met by her parents, journalists, and numerous activists outside the prison. Figueroa is now looking forward to the future: “I am happy to be with my family. I want to study law to understand what happened to me and help other women. I’m going to start again and make up for lost time.”
That sounds like a very positive mindset to have, but the last 15 years must have been incredibly difficult.
Her case is one of many that has caught international attention in recent years, and has drawn the ire and criticism of numerous humans rights groups.
Thirty five-year-old Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was also sentenced to 30 years in jail after her newborn was found dead in 2007, and she was charged with murder.
She was released this past December having served 10 years of her term, with the country’s Supreme Court saying there were “powerful reasons of justice and fairness which warranted granting her the grace of commuting her sentence.”
El Salvador, a primarily Roman Catholic nation, imposed a total ban on abortion in 1998. It is one of the few countries in the world where abortions are banned in their entirety and carry heavy punishments for those who break the law. While the punishment is normally eight years in jail, many cases where a fetus or a newborn has died, such as Figueroa’s, becomes one of aggravated homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years.
Figueroa’s release was celebrated by Amnesty International, which called for the country to decriminalize abortion. Speaking on the occasion, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said: “While it’s a huge relief that Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín’s sentence was reduced and she has now been released, the real story here remains a tragedy.”
“The fact that Maira has spent 15 years behind bars and had almost half of her life taken from her is a harrowing illustration of everything that is wrong with the justice system in El Salvador. El Salvador’s total abortion ban is causing pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families and clearly violates their human rights. El Salvador must decriminalize abortion without delay, and immediately and unconditionally release all women and girls imprisoned for having had an abortion or having suffered obstetric emergencies.”
Nancy Northup, CEO of Center for Reproductive Rights was pleased with Figueroa’s release but said: “While we celebrate Maira’s release today, we condemn the government of El Salvador for not acknowledging the lack of due process and failing to recognize her innocence.”
“It is inconceivable that Maira spent almost 15 years in prison for experiencing a pregnancy complication. Although she has been released, her conviction has not been overturned and she continues to be guilty in the eyes of the law.”
Indeed, the BBC reported that humans rights groups say the current law in the country results in a criminalization of miscarriages and medical emergencies.
In fact, the country has seen more than 100 convicted of abortion-related crimes since the turn of the century. As of today, 27 women are still in prison resulting from convictions from breaking the country’s abortion law.
The country does appear to now be taking steps in the correct direction. Two amendments were recently proposed to the country’s penal code which will allow a woman to abort a baby if her health or life is at risk and in cases of rape and fetal impairments.
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