Woman Imprisoned Over a Decade for Miscarriage Freed in Country With World's Most Draconian Abortion Laws

A woman in El Salvador serving a 30-year sentence for having a miscarriage was released on Tuesday after her sentence was commuted, the second case of its kind in a month.

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, 34, who got pregnant at age 19 after being raped, had spent 15 years in a Salvadoran prison after having a stillbirth. The court determined that her sentence was excessive and immoral. 

El Salvador has one of the world’s strictest laws against abortion, and dozens of women have been convicted of homicide over the past two decades after experiencing complicated pregnancies and losing a baby. Women are forbidden from seeking an abortion even in cases of rape or incest, or when their own life could be endangered by the pregnancy. Today, advocacy groups say around 27 women are in prison after being convicted under the country’s abortion law. Many of the women are charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years in jail.

931459176 Maira Figueroa is embraced by a relative shortly after being released from the Women's Rehabilitation center in Ilopango, El Salvador, on March 13, where she had been serving a sentence since 2003, handed down under draconian anti-abortion laws for suffering a miscarriage. MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images

Another woman, Teodora Vasquez, was freed in February after spending almost 10 years in prison for a similar conviction. Vasquez claimed that she had started to have abdominal pain late in her pregnancy and passed out. Nevertheless, she was charged with murder when her baby died.  

Despite their release, the women’s convictions will remain in force and they will continue to be considered criminals under the country’s draconian laws.

In the face of continuous pressure from advocacy groups and the international community, El Salvador appears poised to amend its severe anti-abortion law. Two amendments to the country’s penal code have been proposed. The amendments would allow a pregnancy to be terminated legally if a woman’s health or life is at risk, in instances of rape and if fatal fetal impairments are detected. Congress now needs to enact the amendments.

The proposals, however, are expected to receive strong opposition from the Catholic church and other religious groups in the country.