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MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION on El Salvador: the cases of women prosecuted for miscarriage

12.12.2017 - (2017/3003(RSP))

with request for inclusion in the agenda for a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law
pursuant to Rule 135 of the Rules of Procedure

Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, Petras Auštrevičius, Nedzhmi Ali, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Gérard Deprez, Martina Dlabajová, María Teresa Giménez Barbat, Nathalie Griesbeck, Marian Harkin, Filiz Hyusmenova, Ivan Jakovčić, Petr Ježek, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Patricia Lalonde, Louis Michel, Javier Nart, Urmas Paet, Maite Pagazaurtundúa Ruiz, Jozo Radoš, Robert Rochefort, Marietje Schaake, Pavel Telička, Ivo Vajgl, Johannes Cornelis van Baalen, Hilde Vautmans, Cecilia Wikström, Valentinas Mazuronis on behalf of the ALDE Group

See also joint motion for a resolution RC-B8-0695/2017

Postupak : 2017/3003(RSP)
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European Parliament resolution on El Salvador: the cases of women prosecuted for miscarriage


The European Parliament,

-having regards to its previous resolutions,


-having regard to Articles 3, 6, 9, 17, 24 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;


-having regard to Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women


-having regard to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) February 2017 review of Women’s Rights in El Salvador and its concluding observations;


-having regard to Articles 6, 24 and 39 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;


-Having regard to the Convention against Torture, which El Salvador is part of since 1994;


-Having regard to Article 144 of the Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador, which states that international treaties concluded with other states or international organizations, constitute laws of the Republic, and in case of conflict between the treaty and the law, the treaty prevails.


-having regard to the Framework for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Through EU External Actions 2016-2020;


-having regard to Article 133 of the Salvadoran Penal Code


-having regard for the statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the end of his mission to El Salvador on 17 November 2017;


-having regard to Article 1 of the Salvadoran Constitution;


-Having regard to the El Salvador Law on Equality, Equity and Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted in 2016, the law on a Violence-Free Life for Women adopted in 2012, and the Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents (LEPINA) adopted in April 2009, which mandates the Ministry of Education to provide education on gender, reproductive health and discrimination against women in the educational system;


-having regard to the 2014 report of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review on El Salvador;


-having regard to the reports by Citizen group for the decriminalization of therapeutic and ethical abortion and abortion for reasons of foetal anomaly (ACDATEE);


-having regard to the 2015 report by the Central American Women's Network titled "Women's Reproductive Rights";


-having regard to the 2014 Amnesty International report titled "On the Brink of Death: Violence Against Women and Abortion Ban in El Salvador";


-having regard to Rule 135 of its Rules of Procedure;


A. whereas women in El Salvador face serious persecution and abuse regarding their reproductive rights since the enactment of a 1998 law totally criminalising all forms of abortion, including those carried out for therapeutic or emergency reasons, and a 1999 constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at conception, allowing for charges of abortion to be converted to aggravated homicide;



B. whereas the change to the legal structure has resulted in a situation where women are unable to obtain an abortion when the pregnancy is unviable for the baby, in cases of high risk pregnancies, in instances where the pregnancy is the result of rape or human trafficking, or in life threatening situations; whereas legislation potentially allowing for the permission of abortion under these circumstances has been frozen in the National Assembly since October 2016;


C. whereas in cases of a stillbirth or miscarriage, women are often presumed to have intentionally terminated the pregnancy and are subsequently prosecuted, even if there is a total lack of corroborating physical evidence; whereas between 2000-2014, 147 women were charged with crimes under the abortion law, 49 were convicted, 26 for homicide and 23 for abortion, after having a, still birth, miscarriage, or abortion according to the Citizens for the Decriminalization of Abortion group; whereas the maximum sentence for abortion is eight years, but depending on the stage of the pregnancy the woman can be charged with aggravated homicide which can carry up to 40 years in prison;


D. whereas on 5 July 2017, Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after having a stillbirth; whereas Ms. Hernandez had been repeatedly raped by a gang member over several months as part of a forced sexual relationship and was unaware that she was pregnant until she gave birth into the toilet in April 2016 after falling ill with acute back and stomach pain; whereas the trial was reportedly flawed as the judge accepted the argument of the prosecution that Ms. Hernandez had intentionally killed the foetus without direct proof and without sufficient evidence; whereas her case is currently being appealed;


E. whereas in 2007, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez suffered a stillbirth after a rapid onset of serious pain while she was at work; whereas medical personnel did not arrive in time to help and instead, several police officers arrived and arrested her on suspicion of ‘aggravated homicide’; whereas her trial was reportedly flawed and lacking in due process as she was convicted without sufficient evidence and was not able to afford an effective legal team; whereas she has spent the last 10 years in prison and is still waiting for a review of her case;


F. whereas Ms. Hernandez and Ms. Vásquez are just two of a number of women who have suffered injustice in Salvadoran courts under the draconian abortion law; whereas “Las 17” have been the most severely punished women, being sentenced to decades in prison between 2000 and 2011; however, several other women have since been sentenced to similarly long terms in equally dubious cases; whereas a handful of “Las 17” have also been released after courts overturned previous decisions;


G. whereas the no-exceptions ban on abortion and the subsequent method of prosecution foreseen in the Article 133 of the Salvadoran Penal Code leads to violations of the rights of many women to life and health, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, and the right to equality before the law; whereas due to the high cost of legal representation, many women are unable to afford adequate representation; whereas women tend to have been incarcerated for many years before judicial review is accessed;


H. whereas women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately affected by strict abortion laws as they are more likely to suffer from obstetric complications and to require medical treatment due to external factors such as poverty and nutrition; whereas a lack of financial resources means that they can only access public health services where all reports of unlawful abortion have been made thus far;


I. whereas the authorities of El Salvador should show a clear interest in upholding the rights of individual women that were denied due process and unfairly convicted of aggravated murder;


J. whereas the Ministry of Education recently prepared materials to integrate sexual and reproductive health into the national school curriculum but were blocked by conservative movements and religious groups, who edited the materials to focus instead on sexual abstinence, despite the fact that 42 percent of women have been pregnant by the age of 20;


K. whereas the current restrictive laws in place do not stop abortion from occurring; whereas according to data from the Ministry of Health’s Information, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, 19,290 abortions between January 2005 and December 2008 were performed;


L. Whereas Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) have explicitly recognized the connection between unsafe illegal abortion and high maternal mortality rates; Whereas the Convention against Torture stipulates that States that have an absolute prohibition on abortion under any circumstances expose women and girls to the situation of being humiliated and treated with cruelty;


M. whereas many Salvadoran women seek life-threatening abortions through dangerous covert methods; whereas an 11 per cent of women and girls who underwent a clandestine abortion in El Salvador as a result have died according to the latest World Health Organization figures; whereas El Salvador has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America and more than one-fifth (23 per cent) of all teenagers aged between 15 and 19 in El Salvador have been pregnant at least once according to the National Family Health Survey; whereas suicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant teenagers in El Salvador with over 57 percent of the deaths of pregnant females aged 10 to 19 being attributed to this;


N. whereas the prevention of unplanned pregnancies and the reduction in the number of cases of adolescent motherhood through universal access to sexual and reproductive health services is one of the goals included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG);


O. whereas the UN Universal Periodic Review made 10 recommendations to the Salvadoran State to bring its abortion law in line with international human rights standards, all of which were rejected by the government;


1. Strongly condemns the sentencing and imprisonment of women and girls for having abortions or miscarriages, including those convicted of abortion, homicide and aggravated homicide; calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all women and girls who have been imprisoned on these convictions;


2. Supports the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to apply an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of Article 133 of the Penal Code and to expedite the review of the cases of all women currently imprisoned for abortion-related offences, with a view to securing their release; ; is encouraged by the drafting of legislation that would allow abortion in certain instances and urges the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly to move this initiative forward and to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances;


3. Condemns all punitive measures for women and girls seeking an abortion, as well as for health care professionals and others who help with the obtaining and carrying out of the procedure and calls for the elimination of such measures;


4. Calls on the Government to ensure that professional secrecy for all health personnel and confidentiality for patients are guaranteed and end the practice of requiring health personnel to report cases of abortion; furthermore to ensure the quality of all pregnancy-related health services, including post-abortion care.


5. Urges the Government to allow women accused of miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion-related offences to await trial outside prison and uphold the presumption of innocence and due process in these cases related proceedings;


6. Reminds the government and judiciary that they are bound to uphold international standards of equal access to justice and the principles guaranteeing a fair trial for all individuals and that guilt can only be determined upon viewing concrete and sufficient evidence; requests that the government make available sufficient public funds to support the legal representation of those who cannot afford it themselves;


7. Requests that the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly implement the recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review regarding the country's abortion laws so that they fall within the boundaries of international human rights standards;


8. Urges the government of El Salvador to ensure access to modern contraceptive information and services and to make efforts to provide comprehensive sexuality education in public schools;


9. Calls on EU member states and institutions to increase their support to local human rights defenders and NGOs campaigning for the reproductive rights of women and girls in El Salvador; encourages support to be given to family planning services in order to successfully provide healthcare and contraceptive advice to those who would not usually have access to it;


10. Reminds the EU of its commitments under the Framework for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Through EU External Actions 2016-2020;


11.Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the Council of Europe, the President, the Government and Parliament of El Salvador, Parlacen, Eurolat Parliamentary Assembly and the CELAC.