El Salvador: Home of the world’s strictest anti-abortion law

The Globe & Mail, By Stephanie Nolen, September 18

San Salvador – It’s been nearly a year since Myrna Ramirez walked out of jail for the last time, but she still can’t quite believe she is free. She can’t believe, in fact, any of it: that she served nearly 13 years in jail for attempted murder, that she nearly bled to death in police custody, that she missed her daughter’s childhood – all because she went into premature labour at home one night, asked a neighbour for help, and that neighbour reported her to authorities for attempting to terminate a pregnancy.

She joined a prison wing full of women who ran afoul of El Salvador’s abortion law, perhaps the most restrictive in the world. “It’s like some kind of nightmare,” Ms. Ramirez says.

In 1998, after the civil war, El Salvador adopted a new law that outlawed abortion in all circumstances. Unlike the law it replaced, there are no exceptions for cases of rape, severe fetal abnormalities or threat to the mother’s life from pregnancy. Only six other countries in the world, all in Latin America and the Caribbean, have similarly prohibitive laws; in one, Chile, the President is pushing an easing of the law to allow abortion in some situations.

El Salvador, however, has the most active enforcement of its abortion law. Here authorities investigate and prosecute women whose pregnancies end before 40 weeks in what may be miscarriages or stillbirths or preterm labours, such as Ms. Ramirez’s. Judges have sentenced women convicted of terminating pregnancies to prison terms of up to 40 years.

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