In a surprise about-face, a pardon was granted for Guadalupe, a young Salvadoran woman already in prison for more than seven years on charges of aggravated homicide with respect to the death of the fetus she was carrying. She is one of 17 women currently held behind bars in El Salvador who have been the subject of efforts both in and out of the country to release them. Of all the women held for the crime of murdering their newborns, these 17 were seen to have had sufficient proof of having unintentionally miscarried during their pregnancies and appeared to have had the best chances for official pardons and release from jail.
The pardon, a political maneuver created by supporters that would release these women from prison after all judicial appeals were exhausted, was presented to the country’s legislature. As reported in El Salvador daily Contrapunto, members of the country’s conservative Arena party abstained from voting rather than be seen voting against the pardon. Only 42 votes were counted in favor, one short of the necessary 43 to constitute a simple majority.
Deputies belonging to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) insisted upon a revote, and on January 21, 2015, the pardon was finally granted. “Ultimately, in the case of the accused Guadalupe . . . there exist legal reasons that justify the favor of granting her a pardon,” reads the legislature’s statement.
Guadalupe had been previously sentenced to 30 years for the alleged murder of her newborn in 2007, when she was just 18 years old. Already a mother of one, she was in the house where she worked as a domestic employee when she began to hemorrhage and experienced a stillbirth. Her employers brought her to a public hospital still bleeding heavily, where medical personnel reported her to the police.
According to Una flor por las 17 (A flower for the 17), an organization dedicated to winning pardons for all the women, Guadalupe’s pregnancy was the result of rape, and she did not gain weight or realize she was pregnant. Furthermore:
The autopsy revealed a congenital anomaly in an umbilical artery and two umbilical veins, an anomaly frequently associated with spontaneous fetal death, but the pathologist did not explain what effect this anomaly could have in the death of the infant.
FMLN deputy Lorena Peña points out that Guadalupe was not accused of abortion, for which the penalty is 12 years, time that the legislator maintains has already been served, but murder, which carries a far longer penalty. Peña accused the courts of “targeting” poor women like Guadalupe, instead of seeking out corrupt officials and drug traffickers. In a January 16 Twitter post, Peña decried the actions of the conservative Arena and PCN parties. Referring to another pardon that day for a convicted kidnapper, she notes, “A kidnapper, yes. Will a woman of limited means always be scorned by these two parties?”
In their study entitled “From Hospital to Prison,” the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Civic Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion) recorded that 129 women had been tried between 2000 and 2011, with 49 found guilty. Three quarters of them were under the age of 25. In most of the cases, the prosecutor first accused them of abortion, and later changed the charge to homicide, which carries a stiffer sentence.
But pardon was denied on January 23, 2015, for a second woman, Cinthia, who gave birth alone to an infant she says had its cord wrapped around its neck. Among the reasons cited in the decision was that Cinthia smoked and drank beer on a daily basis. Cinthia, like Guadalupe, was 18 when she miscarried, was likewise found guilty of aggravated homicide and has been serving the same 30-year sentence. She has completed six, “despite the fact that the court did not present direct proof that she wanted to cause the newborn’s death,” said Dennis Muñoz, one of the attorneys presenting the 17 requests for pardon.
“Sentences and reports based on sexist stereotypes are a constant. They give abundant reasons such as that the mother should have shown maternal instinct. On the other hand, they never cite the risks one can assume that a woman faces when giving birth without assistance,” Muñoz said. In Guadalupe’s case, the report remarked how she exhibited good conduct, completed various training courses and took part in religious activities.