Yo no dí a Luz

Last 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. More than a third of all pregnancies are of women between the ages of 15-19 years old, in a country, which holds some of the highest rape statistics in Latin America, much of which is directly linked to gang violence and intimidation. According to recent studies, suicide is the leading cause of death of pregnant women between the ages of 10-19. However the most important threat to women’s reproductive rights is by far the State’s criminal ban on abortion. Since El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban came into law in 1998, some 150 women have been prosecuted under it. Doctors and nurses in public hospitals are required by the law to report any suspicious bleeding to the authorities, provoking criminal charges, which can lead to between 6 months to 7 years in prison. It is the poorer class of women who suffer, 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.