El Salvador has an absolute abortion ban which means that even if a woman’s health is at risk she can’t abort the pregnancy. This extreme law, which has been in effect since 1998, has led to the criminalization of abortion meaning anyone found guilty of a terminated pregnancy can face time in prison for charges that can include aggravated homicide. Between 2000 and 2011, 129 women were prosecuted for abortion-related crimes, 26 of whom were convicted of aggravated homicide, according to a report by the Health and Human Rights Journal. Women like Evelyn Beatriz Hernández, 21, made headlines after she was was found guilty of aggravated homicide for giving birth to a stillborn baby that was the result of a gang rape. She served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence after a retrial, a first for such a case in El Salvador, the Associated Press reported.
Now another woman has been freed and she’s looking to help women who have faced similar consequences. Sara Rogel spent a decade in prison on charges of violating the ban when she terminated her pregnancy, Reuters reported. She was recently released after she was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she was arrested in October 2012 following a visit to the hospital for bleeding, Reuters reported. Rogel, who was 20 at the time, claimed she had fallen at home but she was prosecuted for having an abortion and sentenced on Sept. 2013.
“I seek to better myself; that is what I have planned,” she told the publication. “To finish my studies and have a job so I can have a good family because life outside is very difficult.” She was released on June 8 from a jail in Zacatecoluca, 35 miles southeast of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.
The country has a population of about 6 million with about 75 percent practicing Catholicism which is deeply ingrained and was integral to the full abortion ban. HHR reported that approximately 19,000 abortions took place between 2005 and 2008 though it’s difficult to estimate as many are clandestine making it hard to measure.
One of the women the publication interviewed was a domestic employee who had no sexual health education and got pregnant but didn’t realize it. She collapsed and woke up in the hospital, handcuffed to her bed after suffering complications that led to the death of the fetus. She was under arrest for the crime of aggravated homicide, and was later convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Because she’s not alone, Rogel tells Reuters she hopes to help her former prison mates.”(Prison) is not an easy place. I know what I have experienced in that place. I know that my companions who are there are suffering, but I want to help them. They are struggling; that’s why I want to help them so that one day they can feel the peace of mind that I have felt,” she told Reuters.
El Salvador is one of three countries in Central America, Honduras and Nicaragua are the other two, with total abortion bans.