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12 Countries Have Called on El Salvador to Stop Criminalizing Abortion

12 countries have come out this week in public opposition of El Salvador's extreme abortion ban.

As part of a review currently being conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK all submitted statements urging El Salvador to lift its complete ban on abortions. The assessment, the Universal Periodic Review, is conducted regularly by the United Nations to see whether UN member states comply with human rights commitments.

"The chorus of countries worldwide calling for El Salvador to end its unjust abortion ban is growing ever larger and louder," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). "The Salvadoran government cannot ignore the calls any longer, and must not be allowed to evade accountability for the human rights abuses that countless women continue to suffer. Access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right, not a crime." There are currently about 28 countries that hold full bans on abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

El Salvador's abortion ban makes no exceptions for rape, incest or threats to a mother's life or health. Women for the last 16 years have faced prison charges of up to 30 years for attempting to take control of their reproductive rights - and, in some cases, for having miscarriages.

El Salvador, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in all of Latin America, has put the lives of women and girls on the line with their draconian ban on abortion. Since the ban was instated, hundreds of girls and women who became pregnant after rape have committed suicide every year, and teen pregnancy is reportedly one of the leading causes of suicide in the region. Nearly one third of all pregnancies in El Salvador occur in girls between 10 and 19, but initiatives to improve sex education in schools and to improve contraception access have been denounced by the powerful Catholic Church in El Salvador.

In 2013, a 22-year-old caled "Beatriz" sought relief from an unviable pregnancy in El Salvador, but the Supreme Court denied an abortion to the young woman. Beatriz's life was at risk, and she was ultimately forced to undergo a C-Section to end her pregnancy.

To make matters worse, a strong stigma surrounding rape prevents girls and women from reporting sexual violence - and of reported sexual violence, only a small number of perpetrators actually go to jail. "Sometimes the person carrying out sexual violence is the family's sole breadwinner," Mario Soriano, a doctor who works with adolescent development in El Salvador, told Reuters, "and so the possibility that their economic help will be taken away is used as a threat against the girl not to report the crime."

El Salvador's government has chosen to postpone a response to the UN recommendations until the next session in March 2015. "Now more than ever the international human rights community must continue to advocate and pressure the Salvadoran government to ensure women's reproductive rights," said Monica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at CRR.

Media Resources: Center for Reproductive Rights 11/10/2014; Reuters 11/12/2014; Feminist Newswire 5/30/13, 6/3/13

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