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Women hold signs and chant slogans as they march to the Legislative Assembly during a demonstration to demand legal abortion on September 28, 2021 in San Salvador, El Salvador. President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, withdrew from the constitutional reform proposal, drawn up by his government, legalizing therapeutic abortion and same-sex marriage. (Photo: Roque Alvarenga/Aphotografia/Getty Images)

El Salvador Offers a Dark Glimpse Into Our Post-Roe Future

This is a war on women, plain and simple. Their bodies are the battleground and their freedom and human rights are at stake. If the far-right gets its way, women will cede their liberty upon conception and become wards of the state.

Cyril Mychalejko

Manuela was a 33-year-old Salvadoran mother of two when she fell and suffered a stillbirth.

She awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed after hemorrhaging and losing consciousness. Hospital workers called the authorities, accusing her of inducing an abortion, and police arrived to interrogate her while she was still shackled.

She was charged with aggravated homicide and in 2008 was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Manuela (a pseudonym used to protect her family) then died two years later from cancer after the government failed to provide her with appropriate medical treatment.

If women, and men, don't want to go back to this future, the only thing that could save the country is a large-scale reproductive justice protest movement engaging in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.

"If I seek health care at a government-run hospital and the government shackles me to a bed and charges me with murder when I am actually at risk of bleeding out, I would absolutely characterize that as state-sponsored violence against my person," explained Juliet Sorensen, a professor at Northwestern University Law School associated with its Center for International Human Rights.

Sorensen, with other lawyers, filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case of Manuela v. El Salvador, brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local and the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto. The court ruled last week that El Salvador—which has a total abortion ban—was responsible for Manuela's wrongful prosecution and death and must pay reparations to her family.

Sorensen called the decision a partial victory for women's health and women's rights because unfortunately the court stopped short of ordering El Salvador to decriminalize abortion. However, it was still significant as it ordered the government to take measures to ensure doctor-patient confidentiality and that women are not unjustly persecuted for seeking health care for obstetric emergencies. Most importantly it did bring justice for Manuela and her family. But there are many other Salvadoran women still suffering the same injustices and human rights violations.

The Salvador Option

El Salvador's draconian abortion laws permit no exceptions. Rape, incest, a high-risk pregnancy where the mother could die—it doesn't matter. And it has effectively turned doctors into informants for fear of prosecution because they can be charged as accomplices if a pregnancy is ended. 

"All of that could happen in the U.S.," said Sorensen, in light of the Supreme Court's Mississippi abortion case and the potential, if not expected, overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

"El Salvador is the 'golden model' for reproductive bullies. It's something they hope to mimic in the U.S. and in Europe," International Planned Parenthood Federation's Irene Donadio told independent global media organization openDemocracy. 

The award-winning documentary "Fly So Far" further offers a horrifying picture of this dystopian Salvador Option by telling the story of 17 women in Ilopango women's prison convicted of aggravated homicide for miscarriages, stillbirths, and other obstetric emergencies.

Teodora Vásquez, the main protagonist, like Manuela, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a stillbirth. Thankfully she was released in 2018, but after 10 years in prison. People need to realize this won't stop with abortion in the U.S. far-right Republicans also have access to birth control in their crosshairs, trying to conflate contraception with abortion.

This is a war on women, plain and simple. Their bodies are the battleground and their freedom and human rights are at stake. If the far-right gets its way, women will cede their liberty upon conception and become wards of the state.

This will disproportionately impact poor women and women of color. But for these conservatives, women's health and human rights is an afterthought, regardless of race and socio-economic status.

Sorensen further explained that in the U.S. people "have extremely short historical memories," as Roe was only decided in 1973.

"There are plenty of women alive today who can tell us what it was like in those bad old days and what they had to experience and I hope that they'll come forward," she said.

One historical example of women's resistance would be the Jane Collective, a clandestine group which ran an underground network to help women with unwanted pregnancies before 1973.

If women, and men, don't want to go back to this future, the only thing that could save the country is a large-scale reproductive justice protest movement engaging in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.

Time, and the Supreme Court, is not on our side.

Originally published at the Bucks County Courier Times.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
cyril

Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko is a teacher and freelance writer from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at cmychalejko@gmail.com and at https://cyrilmychalejko.substack.com.

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