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El Salvador: UN experts urge Congress to allow termination of pregnancy in specific circumstances

Women’s rights

08 May 2017

GENEVA (8 May 2017) – A group of experts of the United Nations today encouraged the Congress of El Salvador to "seize an exceptional opportunity to advance the protection of the human rights of women and girls" in the framework of the review of Article 133 of the Penal Code with a view to decriminalizing termination of pregnancy in specific circumstances.

"We strongly support the reform proposal currently considered by the Salvadoran Congress to allow the termination of pregnancy where it involves a risk to the life of women, where it is the result of rape, and where the fetus would not survive," they said.

"We urge lawmakers to seize this unique opportunity to make it a turning point in the history of women's rights in the country," they stressed.

The experts pointed out that the total ban on termination of pregnancy currently in force in El Salvador runs contrary to international human rights standards and violates the country's international obligations. It has been an issue of concern by several international human rights mechanisms.

"This makes El Salvador one of the very few countries in the world that criminalizes women for termination of pregnancy in any circumstances, including even when the women’s lives are in danger, in case of rape or incest, and when the fetus would not survive. And sometimes even when the woman has suffered from a miscarriage," they said.

"The criminalization of the termination of pregnancy imposes an intolerable cost on the women, their families and the society," said the experts. "It restricts women's access to sexual and reproductive health services and information."

Furthermore, they warned that because of the threat of criminal punishment, women and girls are afraid to seek medical attention when suffering from pregnancy-related complications. In fact, many women have been prosecuted on abortion charges, and some, accused of aggravated homicide, are serving prison terms of up to 40 years.

"Those most affected are almost always women living in poverty and who have little means to obtain adequate legal defense," they added. "We reiterate our call to review the sentences against all women currently serving prison terms on abortion-related charges with a view to their release."

The experts underlined that criminalizing termination of pregnancy does not reduce the need for it, as demonstrated by WHO data. Rather, it is likely to increase the number of women seeking clandestine and unsafe solutions.

The experts stressed that the criminalization of services that only women require, such as abortion and emergency contraception, is impermissible, as it constitutes discrimination based on sex.

"This situation violates the most basic human rights of women and girls: the right to life, the right to health, the right to non-discrimination, the right over their own bodies and human dignity," they said.

(*) The UN experts: Alda Facio, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: El Salvador

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