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El Salvadoran woman freed after nearly 11 years in jail for criminalized childbirth

Jacqueline, who spent almost eleven years in jail for an out-of-hospital birth criminalized as attempted homicide, regained her freedom in El Salvador, where abortion is criminalized and prohibited in all its extremes.

“After 10 years and 9 months in prison, Jacqueline regained her freedom. She faced an out-of-hospital delivery in July 2011. Her daughter survived, but when she sought medical help for both of them she was detained”, consigned in a statement released on Thursday the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion (Acdatee), which supports this woman.

Jacqueline was 23 years old when she faced her childbirth and “could not be with her newborn daughter, nor with her 8-year-old son.” On December 12, 2011, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “attempted murder”.

Jacqueline’s case “confirms the path to freedom for all women criminalized for abortion and obstetric emergencies,” declared Acdatee president Morena Herrera.

Women who face emergencies with their pregnancies, according to Herrera, should not be “denounced, persecuted, prosecuted, condemned and imprisoned for problems that should be taken care of by public health”.

Lawyer Abigail Cortez, from Acdatee’s legal team, assured that Jacqueline’s out-of-hospital delivery was “unassisted” so she was denied the right to “timely medical assistance” and then, while in jail, decisions were made without consulting her defense.

“While in jail Jacqueline was made to sign the adoption of her daughter, without explaining the implications,” Cortez pointed out.

“I feel grateful to all the people who have supported us so that today we are free,” Jacqueline stated, according to a statement from Acdatee.

Since 2009, 65 women convicted of health emergencies during pregnancy, most of them poor, have been released in El Salvador, supported by Acdatee and other feminist and human rights groups.

Since 1998, the Salvadoran Penal Code prohibits abortion in all cases and establishes penalties of up to 8 years. However, prosecutors and judges even classify cases of involuntary abortion as “aggravated homicide”, with penalties of up to 50 years.

Last year, President Nayib Bukele withdrew from a constitutional reform project the possibility of allowing abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, after complaints from the Catholic Church.

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