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The shocking story of a woman jailed because of a stillbirth

Teodora has been in prison for ten years accused of having an abortion and her appeal has been postponed

After suffering a stillbirth in 2007, police arrested Teodora del Carmen Vásquez as she lay in a pool of her own blood. She was later sentenced to 30 years in jail for ‘aggravated homicide’ under El Salvador’s total ban on abortion – even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Her case was reviewed by the court on Friday, December 8, but it decided to postpone the decision until Wednesday, December 13. Teodora has already been in prison for ten years, even though she didn't actually have an abortion (and not that she should have been sent to prison even if she had). 

At the time of the miscarriage she was unable to afford a good defence lawyer and despite having a three-year-old son, she was sent to carry out her sentence in lopango prison on the outskirts of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador. Her son, now 13, has never been able to visit her.

“Teodora has waited 10 years to be before the court that sent her to prison for a stillbirth in 2007, but the judges were not ready to make the decision to undo this utter injustice,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, who have taken on Teodora's case.

“Instead of punishing Teodora for being a woman, authorities in El Salvador must urgently take a hard look at their outrageous anti-abortion law and take immediate steps to repeal it.”

Worryingly, her case is being looked over by the same judges who sentenced her ten years ago.

There are six countries in the world that still have total a ban on abortion: El Salvador, Malta, the Vatican, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. Closer to home, in Northern Ireland abortion is also still illegal under most circumstances and many women are forced to travel to England, Scotland and Wales for the procedure.

In El Salvador there are currently 27 women in jail for having abortions according to the Citizens Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, and between 2000 and 2011, 129 women were prosecuted.

Reproductive health in the South American country is poor, and in 2016 a health official told Reuters that a third of all pregnancies there occur among girls aged ten to 19.

In 2016 another woman who had been jailed after suffering a miscarriage, María Teresa Rivera, managed to secure release from a 40 year prison sentence for the same “crime” of aggravated homicide.