‘Immoral sentence’: Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years

Supreme court commutes Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín’s 30-year sentence for murder, calling it immoral and excessive


Maira Veronica Figueroa is released from jail after the supreme court of El Salvador commuted her sentence, in IIopango, El Salvador
 Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is released from jail in IIopango. Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

A woman convicted of aggravated murder in El Salvador after suffering a stillbirth has been freed from prison, the second such release in the space of a month.

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, 34, had her sentence commuted by the ministry of justice and was released on Tuesday after serving almost 15 years of a 30-year sentence.

The court said it considered the sentence to be excessive and immoral.

El Salvador has had a total ban on abortion since 1998. Since then dozens of women have been accused of having illegal terminations after experiencing obstetric emergencies, and later have been convicted of homicide.

Marroquín’s release follows that last month of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who was jailed on similar charges and served almost 11 years of a 30-year sentence.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped launch the “Las17” campaign for the women, was jubilant over Marroquín’s release.

But Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the organisation, added: “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 recognise her innocence.

“It is inconceivable that Maira spent almost 15 years in prison for experiencing a pregnancy complication. Although she has been released, her conviction has not been overturned and she continues to be guilty in the eyes of the law.”

The organisation said El Salvador must prioritise reform of its abortion law. Two amendments have been proposed to the country’s penal code, which will allow terminations if a woman’s health or life is at risk, in cases of rape and fatal foetal impairments. Congress now needs to vote on the amendments.

Marroquín became pregnant in 2003. Shortly before reaching full-term, while working as a housekeeper, she experienced pregnancy complications that resulted in a late-term miscarriage. Without any witnesses or direct proof, she was convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said Marroquín was not assigned a defence lawyer until the day of her first hearing. She never saw or heard the forensic testimony or medical examiner’s report.

Last week, on International Women’s Day, thousands of women marched in San Salvador, demanding that the abortion ban be overturned.

“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to shed light on the human rights violations caused by El Salvador’s abortion ban,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, the organisation’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We stand with our global and local partners and will not rest until abortion law reform is a reality, and women’s reproductive rights are protected and respected.”

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