The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

El Salvador:
When religion dictates medical practice

Jun 12, 2006

Currently, El Salvador is one of two countries in all of North and South America to completely criminalize abortion, allowing no exceptions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. The other is Chile.

Since 1998, a woman having an abortion in El Salvador faces two to eight years in prison. Anyone helping her faces the same charges and the same sentence, and any doctor convicted of doing an abortion faces 6 to 12 years in prison. At least one judge ruled that abortion is homicide and therefore the woman can face 30 years in prison.

Since that law passed, about 100 cases per year reach trial in El Salvador, for the “crime” of abortion. The only way the woman can avoid a jail sentence is to give the name of the abortion provider, who will then be prosecuted.

But of course, thousands of desperate women still seek to terminate pregnancies today as they have always done. These women end up with so-called “back alley abortions” in which unsanitary methods lead to death or permanent medical problems. Doctors and hospital staff face a dilemma when such women end up in the hospital. If they report the possibility that an abortion took place, they know the woman will go to prison. If they do not report the possibility, they know that the staff could end up in prison.

Although some women organized to fight against this repressive legislation in the 1990s, their fight was overwhelmed by the weight of the Catholic church. El Salvador, of course, is not the only country dominated by the Catholic church. But the church’s reactionary pressure has been felt more strongly there since the 10-year civil war ended in the 1980s, with right wing forces ensconced in power, and the population defeated in bloody fights.

El Salvador gives us a picture of what life for women would be like in this country if religion were to be successful in establishing its dominance over society here.