Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, a Salvadoran woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder after experiencing a stillbirth, was released on Thursday.
“This is an occasion for great joy for her family and great satisfaction for us and the many organizations and individuals who have worked for her release,” Sara Garcia, coordinator of the feminist group Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, told Rewire. “But it is not enough.”
Vásquez’s sentence was commuted by the supreme court after a new trial in December determined that there was insufficient scientific evidence to prove she had intentionally caused the stillbirth.
According to the woman, she began to experience labor pains in 2007 while working at a school cafeteria. She called 911 for medical attention several times, but with no response, she went to a bathroom, where she gave birth, hemorrhaged and fainted. When officials arrived to the scene, they accused her of murdering the newborn and, eventually, sentenced her to 30 years in prison.
“This result shows that Teodora never had to go to jail, never had to be in this judicial process because the obstetric complications are public health problems and not a judicial problem,” the court said.
While it’s a win for the 34-year-old, who had long claimed her innocence, her fight isn’t over.
“She is still considered guilty. We will continue exploring legal avenues to make sure that she is found innocent,” Garcia said.
In El Salvador, abortion is banned in all circumstances. The harsh legislation has led to the incarceration of several women, predominantly poor and single, who have had miscarriages. Recently, a bill was introduced in the El Salvador Assembly that would decriminalize abortion if the health or life of the mother is at risk, the fetus is inviable or if a pregnancy resulted from sexual violence.
Vásquez is the 16th woman to be freed as a result of worldwide pushback from reproductive rights groups and lawyers. A 17th woman, Mayra Figueroa, who was given a 30-year sentence in 2003, will be released next month.