Freedom for Sonia Esther Tábora in El Salvador

María Suárez Toro, Escribana

This past 21 de June de 2012 Salvadorian feminists and women´s groups are demanding revision of a court sentence issued in 2005, that condemned then 20 year old Sonia Esther Tábora to 30 years of prison for  “aggravated homicide” in a premature pregnancy case that had ended in the death of the fetus.

The independent organization – Citizens for the Decriminalization of Abortion (Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico), a non governmental organization born in 2010 to promote of safe abortions, submitted a request for the revision of the case in the local courts in the country.

Tábora was born in the town of Buena Vista in Sacacoyo, in La Libertad, 30 miles west of the capital City of San Salvador. In that town, 40% of the population live in extreme poverty according to FLACSO-FISDL (2005).

On June 22 a group of about 25 poor female friends and neighbors gathered in front of the Court of Sonsonate, 65 kilometers west of San Salvador demanding that her case be heard. Regional and international solidarity campaigns are also being launched by feminists from Spain and from Meso Américan Petateras.

Foto Escribana tomada del video de la Campaña

Outside the Cout in Sonsonate, June 21, 2012
Foto by Escribana of the vode of the Campaign to liberate Sonia

She has been in the Women´s Ilopango Jail in San Salvador during the past 7 years. The jail has a population 450% more than its real capacity. Almost 2,000 women for a space for 400 women.  A number of 14 women sleep in a 2 meter space.

The case needs to be revisited because the facts need to be revised. On February 16, 2005 during her pregnancy she underwent a complication due to very premature contractions that left her in a state of shock and hemorrhage. When her neighbors took her to the health clinic, she explained to the doctor about the complication and the death of the fetus.  Immediately the doctor reported the case to the prosecution office of the police as if she had been a criminal act. Right there the police concluded that’s Sonia Esther deserved preventive prison with which she went from the bed in the clinic directly to jail.

Days later she was condemned by court without any evidence but the word of the doctor, as not even an autopsy was performed to the corpse of the fetus.

The organization is demanding the revision of the case, but also a revision of the law that criminalizes all abortions so that at least when the woman´s life is in danger, the removal of the fetus can save her life. In El Salvador, any kind of abortion is criminalized since 1997 when  a new Penal Code prohibited abortion under all circumstances.

Between 2009-2010, 22 women have been accused of performing abortions and put in jail for it. Their profile is common: being poor and having too many children. Many get to the health clinics with hemorrhages and are taken to the police and then to the courts.

During 2010, of a total of 13,335 births attended in El Salvador, 31% were girls between 10 and 19 years old. 31% of births were of women between 15 to 20 years old and maternal mortality in adolescents is 27.7% and 42% of the adult young women has their first child before turning 20.


The group that promotes the revision of the case has already won similar cases last year.  One is that of Karina Herrera Clímaco, now 31 year old Salvadorean  who was imprisoned since 2002 in the same jail of Ilopago,  after a 30 year sentence for the same reasons as in the case of Tábora. The same Tribunal that  heard Clímaco´s case originally and gave her the 3o year sentence looked at the case now and recognized the mistake they had made by overlooking the autopsy of the newborn baby that had died in childbirth.  The autopsy showed that the baby had not strangled (as had been the assumption of doctors who saw her), but because young Clímaco – 21 at the time – gave birth alone in her house, the umbilical cord was not cut and the blood rushed back to the baby though the placenta creating a hypovolemic shock.   She was immediately released from jail after the finding.

The Catholic Church in El Salvador has been actively engaged in intromission in politics to influence the conservative governments of the past 20 years since the Peace Accords in 1992, to bring into legislation their religious concept of life upon conception.  They did this when in they presented a law that amended the Constitution in 1999  to define life upon conception and another in 1993, which declared the Catholic December 28, a traditional Roman Catholic feast day known as the Day of the Innocents on December 28 as the “Day of the Unborn.”

Before the 1997 bill that amended the country´s Penal Code eliminating all grounds under which abortions could be performed, some types of abortions were accepted in order to save the life of pregnant women. For example, the previous Code in 1956 made no explicit definition as to which abortions could be performed or not, under accepted principles of criminal law, some kinds of abortion could be justified if necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.

Under this Code, a person who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for two to eight years. A person who performs an abortion to which the woman has not consented can be sentenced to four to ten years in jail; if the person is a physician, pharmacist, or other health care worker, he or she is instead subject to between six to 12 years.

But before this, since 1973, in response to the fact that the practice of illegal abortion was common, and was a major contributor to the rate of maternal mortality, the Salvadoran government had expanded the cases in which abortion was permitted.So under the Penal Code of that year, an abortion could be legally allowed under three major conditions: if the pregnant woman’s life was endangered and abortion was the only means to preserve it, if her pregnancy had resulted from rape or statutory rape, or if a serious congenital disorder was detected in the fetus. An abortion caused on part of the woman’s negligence was exempted from prosecution, and the government also provided reduced penalties for a woman of good standing if she had consented to an illegal abortion, or self-induced one, in the interest of protecting her reputation. (Wikipedia.)

A report in 2001 revealed that, after the new Penal Code went into effect in 1998, 69 cases of illegal abortions had been prosecuted. In 23 of those cases, the women involved had been turned over to the authorities by health care workers when they arrived at the hospital seeking treatment after an unsafe abortion. Most abortions had been self-induced.

Although there are no statistics for the country, the situation was such that in 2010 the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee issued a report asking El Salvador to decriminalize abortion and revamp its dismal record of women’s rights violations. The report emphasize that “El Salvador is one of the only five countries in the Latin America that maintains an absolute prohibition on abortion, including under circumstances when pregnancy endangers the women’s life.”

The report “demonstrates how El Salvador’s complete ban on abortion health services directly violates of women’s and young girls rights to equality, life, liberty, health and be free from torture. Furthermore, it violates every woman’s right to receive medical attention while preserving patient confidentiality, which is violated by medical personal that have been pressured by the police to report these incidents.” (Report by the UNHRC, 2010)

Women´s organizations have been very active in promoting that justice be done in cases where the rights of women to health care in unwanted pregnancies is taken into account. This is one of their campaigns. You can join by signing the petition (open petition and click on “Firmar Ahora.”)

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