Yo no di a Luz

Abortion in El Salvador at a time of Zika

Earlier this year, during the height of the spread of the mosquito born illness, Zika, the Salvadoran Ministry of Health recommended that women abstain from pregnancy for almost 2 years. The statement was met with outrage at the idea that women in El Salvador are in fact in charge of their own reproductive lives. Pregnant women in today’s El Salvador face a number of challenges from Zika virus, which has been linked to the condition of microcephaly in newborns, to the constant threat of gang violence with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and an exploding rape epidemic. However the most important threat to women’s reproductive rights is by far the State’s criminal ban on abortion. Doctors and nurses are trained to spy on women’s uteruses in public hospitals, reporting any suspicious alteration to the authorities and provoking criminal charges which can lead to between 6 months to 7 years in prison. It is the poorer class of women who suffer the most, as doctors in private hospitals are not required to give information. Some women are even sentenced to up to 50-year prison terms for what are essentially still births. They are known as the “Mata Niños,” roughly 25-30 women imprisoned and serving between 30 to 50 year sentences on homicide charges for allegedly killing their newborn children. Prosecutors argue against the nature of science, accusing women of willing themselves to expel their premature babies, creating an environment where women are persecuted for the mere natural failures of their own bodies. A woman who contracts Zika while pregnant not only worries for the well being of her unborn child but for the increased risk of miscarrying and then being suspected and possibly accused of intentionally aborting.