The criminalization of abortion vs. the fight for the lives of women

The absolute or partial criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala puts the lives and freedom of women and all people with the capacity to gestate at risk, helps thousands of girls continue to become mothers and denies the right to interruption of pregnancy that, from the indigenous worldview, has been given for centuries.

The criminalization of abortion vs. the fight for the lives of women

The absolute or partial criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala puts the lives and freedom of women and all people with the capacity to gestate at risk, helps thousands of girls continue to become mothers and denies the right to interruption of pregnancy that, from the indigenous worldview, has been given for centuries.

by | Nov 28, 2022 | 0 comments

by | Nov 28, 2022 | 0 comments

  • Lauri Cristina García Dueñas (coverage of El Salvador).
  • Andrea Godínez (Guatemala coverage).
  • Dunia Orellana (coverage of Honduras).

In El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, the alliance between the partisan political right, social conservatism, and the churches (Catholic and Evangelical) achieved the absolute or partial criminalization of pregnancy interruption between the 1970s and 1990s.

In El Salvador, this has meant that dozens of women have been tried and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison and reported within a public health system, whose objective is to guarantee their health.

In Honduras, women and activists hope that the new government will authorize the use of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (PAE) and legalize abortion. In addition, they maintain that it is necessary to offer comprehensive secular sexual education and contraceptive methods in health centers.

In Guatemala, indigenous women and activists believe that their fight is not in the criminalization or not of abortion, but in their work in the communities and the accompaniment of the interruption of pregnancy that, within the indigenous cosmogony, has been carried out since time ancestral in Abya Yala-America, as well as changing the patriarchal macho culture that instills ideas and practices of hatred and violence towards women.

The Savior

“The absolute decriminalization of abortion is a debt in terms of rights and rights are not debated” 1

the state of the question

Seven women are incarcerated with sentences of 15 and 30 years, after suffering obstetric emergencies and being prosecuted for the crime of homicide committed while allegedly having an abortion, according to data from the EFE agency published on March 9, 2022.

These Salvadorans were prosecuted and convicted for the crime of aggravated homicide or attempted aggravated homicide. Some 147 women were legally prosecuted, accused of abortion between 2002 and 2014, most of them were under 25 years of age.

In El Salvador, women who suffer pregnancy complications that lead to spontaneous abortions and stillbirths are suspected of having had an abortion, which has been prohibited in all circumstances since 1997. Some are prosecuted on charges of aggravated homicide, for which a prison sentence is up to 30 years.

Karla Ayala, lawyer and economist, specialist in strategic litigation, reflects: “In justice operators, there is a lot of resistance to applying a vision of a gender perspective. So, the facts or cases are valued with a gender blur. There is a lot of sexist prejudice when prosecuting a woman for whatever crime it is or when questioning her criminally”.

“The night that disastrous vote took place ” 2

Morena Herrera (El Salvador, 1960), feminist and human rights activist, president of the Citizen Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion, explains that there were two significant events that preceded the “disastrous” vote of the Legislative Assembly on April 26 of 1997. On the one hand, a deputy from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) took a “brief” role to call for the closure of clinics that performed abortions as private medical services.

On the other hand, the Sí a la Vida Foundation, together with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, promoted a strong mobilization of churches and students from Catholic schools towards the Legislative Assembly, pressing for the elimination of all non-punishable forms of abortion and, with this, to be able to establish the absolute penalization of abortion 3 .

At the end of 1998, the legislators who were against absolute criminalization analyzed the situation and began to prepare to try to prevent the ratification of the constitutional reform, but it was carried out.

During the following years, Herrera comments, the silence of the feminist movement prevailed, the fear that they would be accused of the crime of inducing abortion and there, she acknowledges, there was a certain amount of self-censorship.

“I would like to add that the commitment to fight for women’s right to decide has been present in these 32 years and, personally, I feel deep satisfaction when I see that those five, those three that we were at times, have multiplied”, rescue the feminist.

“Rights are not debated”

Alejandra Burgos, a 34-year-old feminist, member of the National Network of Defenders, denounces the complicity of Salvadoran society in the absolute criminalization of abortion: “A society that is double standards, because in the same way that it does not allow the interruption pregnancy is a right, nor does it create optimal conditions for life in gestation, new lives or for women who do decide to gestate”.

Burgos, who comes from a family of “born leaders”, affirmed: “Every life that comes into the world must be part of a project that, if it is not planned, is at least embraced, but many times it is not, for example, in the cases of girls who face repeated sexual violence or that of non-binary or trans people whose pregnancies are the consequences of a corrective rape”.

According to this activist, the legalization of the interruption of pregnancy would contribute to reducing or eliminating the continuity of this type of violence.

“We need to challenge the conservative imaginary”

Sara García, from the Citizen Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador, began to organize after her anti-speciesist fight 4 and is now a benchmark for Salvadoran feminism and the fight for the recognition of abortion as a right.

In a virtual interview she told us: “We call it ‘the transition from the hospital to the jail.’ It is that women go to the health system and that instance, which should be where they give you comprehensive care and information, becomes a courtroom and the justice system is activated.”

Many “’are girls, not mothers.’ And yet, imposed pregnancies, pregnancies at ten, eleven, twelve years old continue to be a daily reality in the country, ”she denounces.

As a solution, the activist proposes to continue weaving networks between women and people with the capacity to gestate.

“Talking about abortion without stigma is what connects with the previous step for any type of decriminalization. The social decriminalization of any legal process. So, I think it is a dispute that we make of the social imaginary: talking about abortion at home, on the street, at school, at the university, with our colleagues, with our mothers, with our neighbors (…) makes it possible to break with that conservative imaginary. “It is important that we are there to dismantle those narratives of stigma and hatred towards people who terminate their pregnancies , that pedagogy of cruelty,as Rita Laura Segato says”, she underlines and makes a call to follow up on Beatriz’s case, as important as the Manuela case 5 .

“Let’s not allow them to blur our feminist political agenda that places the body of women, of pregnant people, at the center, the body that, in the end, is a space that we also dispute,” she says.

guatemala _

Indigenous activists propose not only to decriminalize abortion but also to change the patriarchal macho culture that instills ideas and practices of hatred and violence against women.

In Guatemala, the criminalization of the interruption of pregnancy affects, above all, thousands of girls who are sexually abused and forced to become mothers. Indigenous activists accompany the women of their communities beyond what is dictated by the Penal Code with a more comprehensive vision of the body. 


Therapeutic abortion is the only one endorsed and not penalized in the Guatemalan Penal Code. Article 137 establishes that therapeutic abortion, that is, when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, is not penalized. But the doctor must have the consent of the woman and have, at least, the opinion of another doctor that supports the fact that the mother is at risk and should be done as a last option.

In 2018, congresswoman Sandra Morán of the Convergence party took the issue to the plenary session, presenting a bill, with the support of the Presidential Secretariat for Women, which sought greater protection for pregnant girls and adolescents under 14 years of age and victims of sexual violence. However, this initiative was rejected by groups that prevented decriminalization through a “pro-life” campaign.

The urban perspective

Mariana was 11 years old when she became pregnant by an adult man who paid Laura, the girl’s mother, 100 quetzales (approximately $12) to sleep with her despite being a minor. This happened in one of the municipalities on the South Coast of the country, with a high rate of violence against women and child abuse.

This is one of the cases that the lawyer and defender of women’s rights, Aurora Pereira, followed up during the pandemic together with the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation (PGN).

Aurora looked for means to house Mariana in a safe place, but when Laura found out, she took her pregnant daughter and took her to another municipality. Aurora and the PGN did not hear from them again.

Stephanie Rodríguez, feminist lawyer, defender of Human Rights and member of the Multidisciplinary Group for the Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, emphasizes that, if there is good health coverage, it should provide family planning methods and address comprehensive education. Another would be the scenario in the country, but the discussion is more directed towards punishment and penalties, when public prevention policies are the ones that should prevail.

As long as the factors of comprehensive sexual education and family planning methods do not change, abortions will continue to be performed unsafely, more women will continue to die , and more children will continue to be sexually abused, he says.

“For me it is not normal to have more than 5,000 girls under the age of 14 pregnant and no, it is not normal for them to die from having to be mothers because their uterus is not ready to be,” the expert emphasizes.

The indigenous and rural perspective

According to Chahim Vázquez, an active member of the Network of Ancestral Healers of Territorial Community Feminism, abortion has a political and spiritual dimension, it is not only something physical and medical, but the spiritual dimension carries a background of dedication, liberation and strength What is needed to terminate a pregnancy?

“For us, our safe place is not legislation that approves abortion, because the issue, for us, represents an emancipation from the world that is not the Castilian world. In principle, the safe place is the wisdom of women and the emancipation of that wisdom”, says Vázquez.

In her opinion, urbanization, capitalism and colonialism represent many daily violence for women in the territories. She considers that the conception of “sin”, constructed by the churches, represents systemic violence against women’s wombs. In addition, she believes that machismo and macho customs threaten the lives and freedom of women.

Chahim is dedicated to accompanying women in various territories of the country, mainly in one of the departments with one of the highest rates of sexual violence and pregnancies in girls under 14 years of age. “The amount of sexual violence against girls and adolescents that we attend to is impressive, as is the amount of impunity in our territory.”

For them, the issue of decriminalization should have a more comprehensive definition, a definition that should include the feelings and ancestral knowledge of the different territories of the country.

“In our territories there is a system of repression where not only the stigma that you had an abortion affects, but it is a legal persecution, a persecution where you can disappear, in which any crazy misogynist who has a femicide detonator and knows that you had an abortion because they denounced you can kill you; the people of a church can send you to burn and so on”, comments Chahim.

Chahim explains that, in some cases, they have received threats that they will be beaten, raped or banished.

For Chahim and the territories, it is more important to change the patriarchal macho culture that instills ideas, practices of hatred and violence towards women.

It is about accompanying dismissing fear, guilt, sadness and internal accusation. In other words, dealing with all that other dimension of integrating the knowledge of the guides and the wisdom of the women who accompany other women.

“The emancipation of women is infinitely plural, just like bellies. In the territories, the struggle for the autonomy of women’s decision continues, ”she underlines.

honduras _

“The patriarchy cannot accept that the woman decides about her body ” 6

It is necessary to offer comprehensive secular sexual education and contraceptive methods in health centers, say the activists, who hope that the new government will approve the use of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (PAE) and abortion.


The National Congress of Honduras approved in January 2021 a reform to the Constitution that sought to shield the absolute prohibition of abortion that has already existed in the country since 1985. According to the UN, the number of unsafe abortions in Honduras could be between 51,000 and 82,000 per year.

The reform to article 67 was aimed at preventing abortion from being legalized in the future, where it is prohibited in all cases, including rape, serious malformation of the fetus or when the life of the pregnant woman is in serious danger.

The “Shield against abortion in Honduras” initiative, approved in a single debate, was presented on January 11 by the vice president of the Honduran parliament, Mario Pérez, a deputy from the then ruling National Party. The article establishes that it is “prohibited and illegal the practice of any form of interruption of the life of the unborn, whose life must be respected at all times.” The prescription, sale and use of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (PAE) is also prohibited.

From 2006 to 2018, 47 women have been prosecuted for the crime of abortion in the country. During the government of the new president, Xiomara Castro, there have been no initiatives to change said legislation 7 . Her term began on January 22, 2022.

The authorization of the PAE is in the hands of the Secretary of Health José Manuel Mathew and the Gender Commission of the National Congress of Honduras.

The political obstacle

Vanessa Siliezar, gender expert and feminist lawyer from UDIMUF (Unit for the Comprehensive Development of Women and the Family) analyzes the current situation:

The government of President Xiomara Castro is run by men with a progressive tinge who do not differ from conservatives in terms of control over women’s bodies. The PAE is our thermometer, since repealing the ministerial agreement that prevents the distribution and information on the emergency contraceptive pill is an administrative action.

“The government is signing pacts with the opposition party to not allow legislative actions to free women from the yoke of their bodies, due to the influence of decision makers from conservative religious sects,” he denounces, which is a trend in the region.

“Criminalizing abortion is not going to stop women from continuing to practice it, since it is an ancient practice. The medicalization of health and religion demonized the ancestral practice because the patriarchy cannot accept that the woman decides about her body ”, she concludes.

The problem of violence and fear

Jinna Rosales, director of Acción Joven, shares that no government that leaves aside the situation of violence against women in Honduras will have the silence of the activists. “They continue to be responsible for the forced pregnancies of girls,” she says.

According to the Ministry of Health, every day, three girls under the age of 14 become mothers as a result of rape. Honduras has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America.

Every three hours, a woman or girl reports a rape.

In 2021, the Public Ministry registered 2,896 complaints of sexual violence; of them, more than 53% were between the ages of 10 and 19.

“The approval of the PAE is an urgent, possible, necessary decision that must be implemented immediately to protect all women and girls from the consequences of sexual violence,” she requests.

“I know from experience that, for the most part, bans are born out of fear and misinformation on a subject. The most serious thing of all is to think that the morning after pill affects the lives of women. That is not true and has no scientific basis, ”she shares.

“When will there be political will?”

Daniela Palma, director of the organization Nosotras La Preferimos Sencilla, recalls that the government of Xiomara Castro promised that it would enforce access to the Emergency Contraceptive Pill and, later, abortion.

“Currently, we do not notice progress in terms of human rights for women, however, we think that there is still hope from some people within the social movement that the human rights of women are guaranteed, we are seeing this as a promise to long term from the Castro government”, he hopes.

“The question is when will there be political will to assert women’s rights. Minister José Manuel Mathew has no will because he has political and religious biases, ”he comments.

The call

Andrea Rosales, Communications focal point at Somos Muchas, affirms that “we hope that the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, fulfills her promise to approve the Emergency Contraception Pill based on Human Rights and health, since many speeches have been from misinformation and polarization”.

Girls need access to this medicine to avoid unwanted pregnancies, she reflects.

“We must connect our struggles and work in an articulated way to free ourselves, without believing that each one is an island. It is necessary to offer comprehensive secular sexual education and contraceptive methods in health centers. Legalization is not enough. Also at a social level, what we are requesting must be understood, ”she reflects, as did Sara García, a feminist from El Salvador.

He recapitulates that the main enemies for abortion to be legal in Honduras are the National Party and anti-rights fundamentalist groups that use anti-abortion positions to talk about life, although he denounces that, for years, they have defended corruption, exploitation, violence and dispossession.

  1. Phrase of the feminist Alejandra Burgos.
  2. Phrase of the feminist Morena Herrera.
  4. According to Richard Ryder, psychologist, philosopher and animal rights activist, who coined the term in 1970, speciesism is the “discrimination or exploitation of certain animal species by humans, based on the presumption of superiority of the human race.” .
  6. Phrase by Vanessa Siliezar, feminist lawyer.
  7. Source: BBC.