El Salvador’s pregnancy ban is Catch 22


A world in which women have no reproductive rights and are ordered not to become pregnant sounds like bad science fiction, but it exists in El Salvador. The country’s pregnancy ban ties the hands of women, leaving them with a choice of life without reproductive rights or life behind bars, according to an April 25 Marie Claire article.

In response to the escalating Zika virus and its affects on babies across Latin America, El Salvador’s officials announced a strict advisory against pregnancy Jan. 21 that is set to be in effect until 2018.

Other countries in the region have announced similar precautions. Brazil suggested women do not get pregnant and Colombia has urged women to delay pregnancy for at least six to eight months—but El Salvador is the only country that has enacted this severe precaution.

In a country that already has tough laws regarding women’s reproductive health issues, banning pregnancy is the most oppressive move the government can make for El Salvador’s women.

According to the Marie Claire article, El Salvador is among four countries in Latin America in which it is illegal to terminate pregnancy at any stage. Abortion is illegal in Nicaragua, Honduras and Chile, but El Salvador’s abortion laws are the most draconian. The country considers abortion a crime and women face up to 50 years in prison if they are found guilty of having an abortion or self-induced miscarriage.

Instead of banning pregnancy, the country’s government needs to give women and men easier access to contraception and reproductive health resources. Women are already treated with less respectthan men in the workforce and their civil rights are often pushed to the back burner. However, health rights—both locally and internationally—deserve greater attention from governments and health organizations, especially in Latin America where the Zika virus is a pressing issue.

Birth control and condoms are also expensive and not readily available in all of El Salvador, forcing women living in rural communities to resort to tubal ligation and risky hormone injection methods, according to a Jan. 25 Vocativ article.

The Population Reference Bureau conducted a study in 2010 that showed only 10 percent of El Salvador’s population uses condoms and the birth control pill because of access and affordability. The study indicated that sterilization has been increasing in the country since the 1970s, with most women in rural areas turning to the option. It also noted that El Salvador has one of the highest sterilization rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, surpassed only by Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Women in El Salvador, who are already punished by the law for having an abortion or a miscarriage, are trapped between two impossible options.The implication that women in the country would remain abstinent until 2018 is ridiculous and unrealistic.

Ideally, if abortion and contraception were legal and more accessible, it would make the lives of many women much easier, especially those who become pregnant through rape, which, according to the Vocativ article, is common in El Salvador.

Not all contraception is free in the United States, but condoms are available at most health clinics and college campuses, which is astrategyLatin American countries like El Salvador should adopt. The Salvadoran Demographic Association, an organization that works to deliver high-quality family planning services to people nationwide with an emphasis on poor, marginalized and vulnerable groups, is the main supplier of condoms in the country.

The SDA is El Salvador’s second-most activesource of voluntary surgical contraception, and their efforts should be backed by the federal government and people who want to make a difference for women. Making condoms available to both men and women, and offering longer-lasting birth control methods to women such as intrauterine devices and the pill will make women’s lives easier. They should not be denied to those who need them,especially in the 21st century.

The pregnancy ban needs to be lifted and the country’s government needs to look for other methods to keep people safe from the dangers of the Zika virus like offering abortions and free contraception to women in need. Women should be free to do what they want with their bodies without facing extreme legal consequences.