Analysis Abortion

Late Abortions: Facts, Stories, and Ways to Help

Jodi Jacobson

In all the extensive coverage of the assassination in his church of Dr. George Tiller by a murderer affiliated with extremist right-wing groups, little has been said to shed light on what late-term abortions are, who has them and why.  

Author’s Note: This post was updated at 3:06 pm on June 3rd, to clarify a sentence earlier referring to the third trimester.  The sentence now reads “There are different definitions of what constitutes a “late term
abortion,” but  most definitions refer to abortions at or
after 24 weeks or in the third trimester.”

In all the extensive coverage of the assassination in his church of Dr. George Tiller by a murderer affiliated with extremist right-wing groups, little has been said to shed light on what late-term abortions are, who has them and why.

Instead, much of the media and talking heads pontificating on this subject have constantly focused on Tiller’s being “one of the very few doctors who perform late-term abortions,” without providing any context as to why he did so and under what circumstances.

As a result, the dominant narrative is one which perpetuates an assumption that people are electing to have late-term abortions for the sake of convenience.  This public perception is shaped by the constant intonement that Tiller was “killing babies” coming from irresponsible journalistic hacks like Bill O’Reilly, the suggestions by Chris Matthews that women are blithely electing to abort fetuses that are viable outside the womb, and the statements of inconsistent moralizers like Will Saletan that “there are cases where there’s no real medical situation
other than some teenager in denial and it went on for five months [where the argument is] you should make an exception because of the
so-called mental health of the girl.”

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The narrative is one in which women are shamed for choosing abortion, no matter the circumstances, and in which Dr. Tiller is portrayed even indirectly as a despicable aide in their shame.

This narrative is so pervasive that even among those who consider themselves pro-choice, many people are left to wonder: Are these women just waking up one day, deciding over coffee they are tired of being pregnant, and opting for an abortion at 24 weeks?  Are there a lot of third trimester abortions?  Are they just, as Chris Matthews likes to call them, “elective procedures?”

In fact, in the past two days I have found the misunderstanding about late-term abortion to be widespread even among many of those in the public health advocacy community.

So here are some facts:

Late-term abortions are very rare.  About one percent of all abortions performed in the United States occur after 21 weeks.  There are different definitions of what constitutes a “late term abortion,” but most definitions refer to abortions at or after 24 weeks or in the third trimester.

Late-term abortions are severely restricted by law.

In 1973, the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy
extends to the decision of a woman, in consultation with her physician,
to terminate a pregnancy.

The Court also determined, however, that this right is not absolute and it must be balanced against the state’s legitimate
interest in protecting both the health of the pregnant woman and the
developing human life. Therefore, according to Roe, the state’s interest in protecting potential life
becomes compelling
at the point of fetal
viability (when the fetus has the capacity for sustained survival
outside the uterus).  States are allowed to, and indeed have, severely restricted access to abortion in the third-trimester, except, as the Supreme Court has ruled, when
necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.
  In subsequent cases, the Court made clear that viability is a medical
determination, which varies with each pregnancy, and that it is the
responsibility of the attending physician to make that determination.

As the Guttmacher Institute points out in a brief on this issue, the Supreme Court has held that:

  • even after fetal viability, states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother;”
  • “health” in this context includes both physical and mental health;
  • only the physician, in the course of evaluating the specific
    circumstances of an individual case, can define what constitutes
    “health” and when a fetus is viable; and
  • states cannot require additional physicians to confirm the physician’s judgment that the woman’s life or health is at risk.

What is viability?

Viability is a medical, not a legal definition.

As pointed out in another excellent brief by Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California:

A fetus is viable when it reaches an
“anatomical threshold” when critical organs, such as the lungs and
kidneys, can sustain independent life. Until the air sacs are mature
enough to permit gases to pass into and out of the bloodstream, which
is extremely unlikely until at least 23 weeks gestation (from last
menstrual period), a fetus cannot be sustained even with a respirator,
which can force air into the lungs but cannot pass gas from the lungs
into the bloodstream.

The brief continues by underscoring that:

While medical advances have increased the
survival of infants born between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation, the
point of viability has moved little over the past decade; at the
earliest, it remains at approximately 24 weeks, where it was when the
Supreme Court decided Roe — a fact acknowledged by the court in its
recent decision in PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA V.
CASEY. A study of infant survival by researchers at Case Western
Reserve University Medical School found that the rate of survival for
infants born before 25 weeks gestation has not improved appreciably in
recent years.

Most states restrict late-term abortions.

The Guttmacher brief notes that:

  •  37 states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy.
  •  24 states initiate prohibitions at fetal viability.
  •  5 states initiate prohibitions in the third trimester.
  •  8 states initiate prohibitions after a certain number of weeks, generally 24.

The circumstances under which procedures are permitted after that point vary from state to state.  For example:

  • 29 states permit abortions to preserve the life or health of the woman;
  • 4 states permit abortions to save the life or health of the woman, but use a narrow definition of health;
  • 4 states permit abortions only to save the life of the woman.

Some states require the involvement of a second physician when a later-term abortion is performed.  Nine states require that a second physician attend in order to treat a fetus if it is born alive.  Ten states require that a second physician certify that the abortion is medically necessary.

Kansas law is strict on the issue of late-term abortions.

Kansas law requires that such procedures can only be performed after viability if two
independent doctors agree that not to do so would put the mother at
risk of irreparable harm by giving birth.

A huge gap in the narrative.

There is a vast gap between the descriptions of Dr. Tiller by members of the extremist right — who incite lunatics to violence by protraying Tiller as a mass murderer — and the many women and men who have been served by Dr. Tiller, who refer to him as heroic, kind, compassionate, professional.  This gap speaks to the fact that very few–not least the mainstream media–understand what he was doing and, and more to the point, why we are asking the wrong people to comment.

In the words of one of the hundreds of people writing messages on the memorial website to Dr. Tiller:

Dr. Tiller was a hero, plain and simple. I am thankful for his life and
the gift of high quality health care he provided his patients. My
thoughts are with his family, friends and community and my thanks to
you for your support of Dr. Tiller despite the tough cirumstances.

Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors providing late-term abortions to people in need in part because he was a commited, ethical, moral medical professional who took seriously his oath to serve the best interests of his patients, and because he was dedicated to supporting women’s rights even at the risk of his own life and even under unimaginable daily pressure and threat.

Another poster on his memorial site states:

I think this is an absolute outrage, George Tiller was the only one I
had to turn too during an awful moment in my life. He gave my life back
and the choice I had to make was painful, personal, and heartwrenching.
God bless his family, the church, and everyone who is hurt by this
violent act.

He also was one of the few because laws in many places restrict women’s access, and because fewer and fewer doctors are trained in these life-saving operations, due to the actions of the far right.  Many doctors from out of state referred patients to Dr. Tiller and many revered him.

If you listen to the voices of women served, you understand far more than what the media has told us about who chooses late-term abortion and why.

For these women and their partners, Tiller was not “an abortionist” but a life-saver.  He was a man who put himself in jeopardy to ensure that a  woman would not have to lose her life to infection or complications in an already-doomed pregnancy.  He was a doctor who ensured that women carrying a fetus with fatal or catastrophic abnormalities could make the decision–if they so chose–to spare themselves and their families the agony of watching a newborn that could not live endure countless operations and medical procedures in futile attempts to keep it “alive.”

A 2006 amicus brief prepared for Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a case focused on the availability of second trimester abortions, contains a number of stories of women who had to seek out later-term abortions, such as that of Carrie, a 40-year-old woman from the Southwest
who was happily married for nine years when she became pregnant.  She
described the timing of her genetic testing and decision to end her
pregnancy:

On November 11, 2005, I elected to have [a] CVS test. . . . Then,
the test results came in. . . . We knew chromosome 14 was incompatible
with life, and chromosome 22 could mean Cat Eye Syndrome. Both my
husband and I wanted the baby very much, and neither one of us was
willing to terminate the pregnancy on a “maybe.” . . .

I had the amnio on 12/26/05, and the results came in on Jan. 13,
2006. It confirmed without doubt – she had Cat Eye Syndrome tetrasomy in
every cell of her body. The last 3 sonograms showed . . . our baby’s
kidneys were beginning to malfunction. . . .We made this decision
because we loved our daughter so much. We didn’t want her to suffer the
definite and the untold problems she was sure to endure, if she even
made it. We made the best decision we could with the information we
had. We fought for her. We wanted her. But we didn’t want to condem[n] her to [a] life of agony.

Or that of  Cara, a married Catholic woman with an almost-three-year-old son, who had “always dreamed of having a big family.”  She described the time it took to obtain information needed about her pregnancy:

I was about 17 weeks pregnant at the time. . . .[T]hey scheduled us for our Level II ultrasound a few weeks early so they could look in more detail at the baby. . . . A few days [after the ultrasound], we received the news that would change our lives forever.  Our son was infected with CMV (cytomegalovirus). This was the worst possible scenario (of the possibilities we were given). . . .  Although I have always been pro-choice, I had winced at the thought of late-term abortions or “partial birth” abortions, thinking that it was just inhumane or irresponsible. Now I know differently. In my case, we were not able to confirm our diagnosis until 19 or 20 weeks gestation. I terminated at 22 weeks. . . . I was completely heartbroken. . . .

Numerous other such stories are contained in this brief.

Authors on Rewire, such as Lynda Waddington and Susan Ito, have shared their stories about late-term abortion and the excruciatingly difficult decisions they had to make.

Others have written at length about their experiences of finding their wanted pregnancies were doomed to fail, of facing their own possible death in carrying to term, and leaving their children without a parent.

A collection of “Kansas Stories” can be found, for example, on the site, A Heartbreaking Choice, such as that by Nicholas’ Mom, by K.M., and by several others…parents who looked forward to bringing a child into their family but were faced with fetal deformities so severe their child either would not survive pregnancy, would be born only to die, or in which carrying the pregnancy to term would threaten survival of the mother.  Other stories are being collected here on Rewire, Facebook, on a website memorial to Dr. Tiller and elsewhere.

None of these women made their choices lightly and it is profoundly disrespectful of them–indeed it is dangerous to women–to suggest otherwise for political gain, not to mention commit the horrific acts of violence against providers such as Dr. Tiller who help so many women and men through this agony.

What can you do?

Obviously in this climate, constant political vigilance is needed against the erosion of women’s rights in law and in policy, and against the public narrative that shames women and providers, as well as against the actions of the extremist right that daily puts them at risk. This will be increasingly true in the coming months.

More immediately, in honor of Dr. Tiller and the patients he and other providers serve, we are also providing the following links to funds already set up to receive donations in his name.  We urge you to consider giving as much as you can.

Two of the funds available in memory of Dr. Tiller include:

George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund
c/o National Network of Abortion Funds

42 Seaverns Ave.
Boston, MA 02130

Or you may donate to the Tiller Memorial Fund at NNAF online.
The Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project is also accepting donations in Dr. Tiller’s name.

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”