Although El Salvador is receiving plenty of ink in international newspapers, unfortunately it is not for a positive reason. Various human rights organizations, including the United Nations and other nations such as the United States, are pressuring El Salvador to alter legislation pertaining to abortion. Currently, the country is only one of handful in the world, which completely bans abortion under any circumstances. Not only are women being placed in prison with sentences up to 40 years for murdering their children in cases of miscarriage, but the suicide rate for teenage girls that are pregnant is very high and women can be searched at any time if they arouse the slightest suspicion of the police force. For a country still seeking to fully recover from a devastating 12 year civil war and numerous natural disasters such as hurricanes, its policy on abortion is not conducive to becoming a strong democracy, which is the intention.

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According to Sherwell, ( “After spending more than a quarter of her 25 years in prison for giving birth to a still-born baby in a miscarriage, Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez has been freed from prison in El Salvador after an unprecedented pardon.” The 30-year-old former housekeeper became pregnant after being raped and was in prison for seven years for murder, although she delivered a stillborn child in a medical procedure at the hospital. Sherwell ( says, “Between 2000 and 2011 at least 129 Salvadoran women were accused of abortion, of whom 29 were jailed.” Vasquez is one of the members of what is referred to as the Las 17, which refers to the women who were all sent to prison for murder, despite their pregnancies terminating in miscarriage or still birth. One other woman was also released, but the other 15 remain in prison in the nation’s capital, San Salvador.

The international community is taking measures to have El Salvador change the abortion law, as reproductive freedom is considered to be a right in United Nations programs. In fact, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently sent a letter to the Salvadoran government requesting they address the human rights violations that stem from the imprisonment of these women (Culp-Ressler, Also, Amnesty International has introduced a petition to be presented to the government. To date, it contains more than 300 signatures (Culp-Ressler,

Throughout its history El Salvador has remained a staunchly Catholic nation. Although that has begun to change over the last decade with the introduction of some Protestant organizations, the Church is a large part of daily life for most Salvadorans. As the Catholic Church prohibits abortion, El Salvador followed suit and implemented the same regulations. According to Chandler (, Denis Munoz, who is the attorney for the jailed women said, “The view here is that the only option for a woman is to be a mother,” Muñoz said. “A woman who is not a mother is not a woman. They are idealized, and whatever their state of health, they must save their child.” This illustrates the dominance of a male oriented, machismo culture in El Salvador, which is a contributing factor to stringent regulations on abortion.

This situation just depicts how much farther El Salvador needs to come in order to become a true democracy. If these types of laws exist and contribute to human rights violations, El Salvador has some work ahead. The country was nearly destroyed by a very bloody and brutal civil war from 1980 to 1992. Although they have implemented most of the suggestions of the United Nations, who as involved in the peace agreement, El Salvador still remains trapped in its long history of repression.

In addition to the abortion law, El Salvador is also grabbing headlines for the level of gang violence in its streets. In very short order, it might become the deadliest place to live that is not in a war zone. The violence is blamed largely on gangs fighting with one another, which they have plenty of time as nearly a quarter of the population is unemployed and guns are very accessible. The government must grapple with this problem and determine some sort of resolution. The same holds true with the economy and abortion law.

El Salvador is certainly making attempts to become a democracy and to improve the quality of life for its citizens economically, however, that will be no small feat. Hopefully, with the aid of the United States and other allies, the nation will be able to pull itself from financial turmoil to establish a more stable economy. In El Salvador’s case, democracy will only fully arrive once the economic issues are improved or eradicated. The cultural traditions, such as machismo, are a bit harder to alter but it can be accomplished if that remains a mission. Like other Latin American countries, El Salvador has a high population of indigenous people that have often contributed to racism and classism. Discrimination of various sorts has been a part of their society for several hundred years.

Even with the motivation, the support of the international community and the resources, it will be a journey for El Salvador to engage upon to propel itself towards true democracy. The astonishing thing is for a country that is attempting to remodel or adapt to the changing circumstances, that their remains such a reliance on the old beliefs and systems that characterized them for so long. There is an adage claiming old habits die hard, in El Salvador’s case, that is certainly true. Until then, many eyes around the world will be cast towards the tiny nation to see exactly how El Salvador will proceed on the road to democracy.