El Salvador woman freed after 15 years in prison for abortion

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín says she suffered a stillbirth, but was taken to hospital and later arrested for having an abortion

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is embraced by her mother as she leaves prison. (photo:BBC)
Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is embraced by her mother as she leaves prison. (photo:BBC)

A 34-year-old Salvadoran woman has been freed after spending 15 years in jail for having an abortion.

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was released after her 30-year sentence for aggravated murder was reduced.

Abortion is banned in El Salvador, a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, in any circumstances.

Figueroa has always maintained her innocence. The woman said she suffered a stillbirth in a house where she was working as a main in 2003.

Figueroa’s release puts the spotlight on El Salvador’s total ban on abortion as the Central American nation faces mounting international pressure to overturn its strict law and release other women jailed for abortion-related crimes.

On Tuesday morning, Figueroa was greeted by cheering crowds when she walked out of the overcrowded Ilopango women’s prison in the capital San Salvador, with a plastic bag of belongings.

“I’m going to start again and get back the time lost,” the government prison quoted her as saying on Twitter.

Figueroa, a domestic worker, says she experienced pregnancy complications and had a late-term miscarriage.

“It is inconceivable that Maira spent almost 15 years in prison for experiencing a pregnancy complication,” said Nancy Northup, head of the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which campaigned for Figueroa to be freed.

“While we celebrate Maira’s release today, we condemn the government of El Salvador for not acknowledging the lack of due process and failing to recognize her innocence,” she said in a statement.

“Her conviction has not been overturned and she continues to be guilty in the eyes of the law.”

According to the rights group and the local Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion (CFDA), which also helped campaign for Figueroa’s release, at least another 27 women are in prison under the country’s abortion law.

Another woman, Teodora Vásquez, 35, had her sentenced commuted a month ago.

Rights groups say that women were accused of inducing abortions, and wrongfully jailed for murder, when instead they suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications.

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