In Brief

El Salvador woman freed after 15 years in jail for abortion

The 34-year-old former maid claims she suffered a stillbirth

A 34-year-old El Salvador woman was released yesterday after spending 15 years in jail on charges of inducing an abortion.

Maira Veronica Figueroa was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder in 2003.

She maintained her innocence, saying she suffered a late-term miscarriage in a house where she was working as a maid. After being taken to a hospital, she was arrested and later sentenced, despite a lack of witnesses or direct proof.

Figueroa’s release “puts the spotlight on El Salvador’s total ban on abortion as the Central American nation faces mounting international pressure to overturn its strict law and release other women jailed for abortion-related crimes”, says Reuters.

Since the Catholic-majority nation banned abortion in 1998, dozens of women “have been accused of having illegal terminations after experiencing obstetric emergencies” and later convicted of murder, says The Guardian. The ban on abortion includes cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is at risk.

Five other countries in Central America also prohibit all abortions. But although El Salvador is not alone in having a blanket ban, “the country is particularly strict in the way it enforces it”, says BBC.

At least another 27 women are currently in jail under the country’s abortion law, according to the rights group Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion (CFDA). Rights groups say many of these women were wrongly imprisoned after suffering miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications.

Nancy Northup, head of the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which campaigned for Figueroa to be freed, yesterday said in a statement: “It is inconceivable that Maira spent almost 15 years in prison for experiencing a pregnancy complication.

“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.”

Although Figueroa was freed early, her conviction has not been overturned, meaning she is still considered guilty of murder.

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