Teodora Vásquez spent 10 years in jail after giving birth to a dead baby girl CREDIT: JOSE CABEZAS/REUTERS

Nine months pregnant, Teodora Vásquez woke up on the day she would lose her second child concerned that the baby wasn’t moving. By early evening she was crumpled under searing pain as she finished her shift at the cafeteria of a private school in San Salvador.

Ms Vásquez called for an ambulance but waited for three hours and by that time she had given birth to a dead baby girl in the toilet. When she staggered out to look for help she was met by a police officer who accused her of murder.

Six months later Ms Vásquez was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated homicide. After 10 years and seven months in jail she walked free in February, her sentence commuted, and finally hugged the teenage boy she had barely seen since he was a toddler.

“My son gave me the strength to keep going while I was inside even though I didn’t see him,” the softly-spoken 35-year-old told the Daily Telegraph a month after her release. “I had lost one child, and I was not prepared to lose the other.”

Her son, who she describes as beautiful, was brought up by his grandparents while she was in jail.

“He says is that he is proud of me. Proud to have a mother like me. And we want to make the most of the time we now have together.”

They committed a real injustice with me but I don’t want to feel resentment. I don’t want revenge. I want to enjoy what I have now.Teodora Vásquez

Ms Vásquez was jailed because of El Salvador’s anti-abortion legislation that outlaws all terminations without exception. The country implements the legislation with a crusading zeal that seems intent on equating not just abortions, but any obstetric emergencies, with murder.

There are no official statistics on the number of women imprisoned for such crimes leaving the activist organisation that helped secure Ms Vásquez’s release, known as the Citizen’s Group, to rely primarily on word of mouth to identify cases.

Monica Herrera, who heads the group, says there are currently 24 women in prison serving sentences ranging from six to 35 years, and another 19-year-old accused of attempted homicide and facing a possible 15-year sentence after she gave birth to her stepfather’s child in a latrine. The baby was found alive.

But while El Salvador may be an extreme case many countries clamp down on women’s reproductive rights, limiting access to abortion, contraception and sexual and maternal healthcare. A recent report by US women’s rights organisation the Guttmacher Institute highlights the 64 other countries around the world that either prohibit all abortions, or only allow them to save a woman’s life.

Figures from Family Planning 2020, a global coalition of partners including the UK Department for International Development, the United Nations and US Aid, show that more than 220 million women in developing countries who don’t want to get pregnant have no access to contraception and voluntary family planning information and services.

Reproductive rights | In numbers

  • More than 220 million women in developing countries who don’t want to get pregnant cannot get hold of contraceptives
  • Less than 20 per cent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa and one-third of womenin South Asia use modern contraceptives
  • In 2012, an estimated 80 million women in developing countries had an unintended pregnancy
  • In the same year around 20 million women in developing countries had an unsafe abortion
  • There are on average 56 million abortions performed every year
  • There are 220 deaths for every 100,000 abortions

Source: WHO and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The coalition says that enabling women to make informed decisions about whether and when to have children reduces unintended pregnancies as well as maternal and newborn deaths. It also increases educational and economic opportunities for women.

For women in countries which restrict access to reproductive health care the stigma attached to abortion or stillbirth is great. For five years Ms Vásquez told nobody why she was in prison for fear of being beaten up. She only realized she was not alone when lawyers from Citizen’s Group sought her out along with other prisoners in similar situations.

“We began to lose our fear a little because there were more of us,” she recalled, her voice cracking just a little. “We started to talk about it and that helped. It helped me to get those feelings out so that when I finally left prison I wasn’t eaten up by anger, resentment, and hate.”

And poverty also made things worse. Vásquez didn’t see her son for the last four years of her incarceration because her family couldn’t afford the time or money to do the onerous paperwork required, or make the long journey from their small village to the prison in the capital.

“Every one of us who was in prison for these crimes was poor and came from a rural area,” she said. “Every one.”

In December last year she returned to court for a review of her case but the same judge who handed down the original verdict reconfirmed the sentence.

“It felt the same as the first time. Even if you don’t want to you get your hopes up. You start hoping that you will get out. Especially when you know you didn’t do anything wrong. I was full of hope that I would be leaving prison, but instead I was sent back with the same sentence.”

And when she finally did hear that she had been released it took a while for the news to sink in. “I couldn’t believe it. I read that piece of paper about 20,000 times until I was absolutely sure that I hadn’t read it wrong,” she says.

In El Salvador attempts are being to made to reform the country’s strict abortion laws, with a proposal to permit abortion to save a woman’s life and in cases of rape.

Vásquez says she bears no grudges and seeks no revenge because she is too busy enjoying her freedom. But, she leans forward to emphasize the point, she also feels an obligation to try to change things so that younger women can avoid the kind of suffering she endured.

“I changed in prison and now I think that we women have the right to decide what happens to us,” says the woman who entered prison with three years of primary schooling and now plans to become a lawyer. “Now I think that if somebody gets pregnant and doesn’t want to have the child, then that is something personal to them.”

She adds: “They committed a real injustice with me but I don’t want to feel resentment. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want any of that, because it would take away the time I have now.”

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/revealed-woman-jailed-having-miscarriage/