This week, the House of Representatives passed
the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
," a bill criminalizing abortions after 20 weeks. The White House, through a statement of administration policy released on Monday night, backed the measure, meaning President Trump plans to sign it if it passes the Senate. Courts have recently struck down similar bans for violating Roe v. Wade and other rulings about abortion. In 2014
, for instance, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Arizona's 20-week ban, letting stand a ruling from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Arizona's law violated multiple Supreme Court rulings, including Roe v. Wade.
In July, the Trump administration proposed a cut
of $213.6 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs and research, even though those programs have been proven to decrease unwanted pregnancies and abortion.
If Americans want to know what the lives of women are like in a country where abortion and even miscarriage have criminal penalties, they should listen to women in El Salvador, where I have been reporting for a project on women in prison.
In El Salvador, abortion is illegal, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Often, women who are poor are charged with aggravated homicide even in cases of miscarriage. To put the situation of sexual and reproductive rights in El Salvador in context, it has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Latin America, where, as a health official told Reuters in 2016
, more than a third of all pregnancies occurred among girls aged 10 to 19. Nearly two in every five pregnancies among girls in El Salvador aged 10 to 12 are the result of rape and incest but the rapists often go unpunished, according to the UN Population Fund
. Since 1998, at least 150 women
have been prosecuted under El Salvador's abortion ban.
In 2013, the case of 22-year-old "Beatriz"
reached the Supreme Court in El Salvador. Due to various medical conditions, her pregnancy put her life in danger, and she wanted to have an abortion. The court ruled against her and she was forced to carry the fetus, which was delivered via C-section
and lived for five hours.
At 20 years old, Adriana, from San Salvador, El Salvador, gave birth at home alone to a child that wasn't breathing. Adriana requested that her name be changed for her safety. "My body was shaking. It was midnight. There was no transportation," she described. By the time she made it to the hospital, Adriana said that the staff -- rather than providing her with medical attention -- accused her of homicide and called the police. She was sent to Ilopango Women's Prison
where she spent five months while her case went to court. The judge charged her with aggravated homicide and gave her the maximum sentence -- 30 years
According to María Rosa Cruz, 50, a psychologist in San Salvador who has worked to help women imprisoned for abortion to adjust to life after prison, in El Salvador "there is a hospital to prison pipeline
" for poor women who suffer miscarriages. "Basically, these are poor, young women who have never been taught their sexual and reproductive rights, and many of them are victims of abuse -- you won't see any rich women in prison," explained Rosa Cruz.
Educating people about women's bodily autonomy in a country where abortion is a crime is a battle some women have been fighting for decades in El Salvador. Morena Herrera
is the founder and president of the Citizen's Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in San Salvador, and is all too familiar with cases like that of Adriana. Herrera helped fight for the rights of a group of women known as "Las 17
" who were sentenced to up to 30 years in jail following reported miscarriages between 1999 and 2011. As she describes, "The problem is that abortion isn't understood as a human rights, public health or social justice issue."
She talked about the psychological damage caused by obligating a woman to have a child after rape or sexual violence or when the child is dead or deformed. "I know women who have children who are the result of rape," she said. "I remember a friend telling me, 'I saw my baby breast feed, and I promised I would transmit only love and not the hate of my rapist in my veins, but there are times when her gestures or her expressions are like his, and I can't deal with it.'"
As recently as this past July, El Salvador enforced a law
that made it possible for rapists to marry the underage girls that they had raped. For example, in 2017 a 12-old-girl who was raped by a 34-year-old was later forced to marry him
, and the case was covered widely in the media because many women's rights organizations were galvanizing efforts to end the law.
Iris Liseth Campos Reyes, 29, who describes herself as a feminist, has spent nine years as a social justice organizer in San Salvador, including the past two working with Youth Voices for Reproductive Choice
. She has a personal connection to the injustice of the way rape victims were treated. She explained, "At 14 my mother was raped by a 64-year-old neighbor. She was raped over a period of years," and gave birth to four of her siblings as a result. "This law makes me think of my mom." Reyes, who has a nine-year-old daughter of her own, says she is inspired by her daughter to work in poor communities to teach women about their sexual and reproductive rights.
Suggesting that women be punished for having abortions isn't the only risky similarity to observe between the United States and El Salvador. In March