They say: Salvadoran women are being held under an abortion ban

SAN SALVADOR (El Salvador) -- Since the late 90s, El Salvador has been completely against abortion, including cases of rape or incest.

They say: Salvadoran women are being held under an abortion ban

SAN SALVADOR (El Salvador) -- Since the late 90s, El Salvador has been completely against abortion, including cases of rape or incest.

Sometimes, prosecutions and long prison sentences can be imposed on those who have planned abortions. Many women who are targeted by authorities come from poor areas.

The Associated Press interviewed several women who were sentenced to time in these cases. Some are members of Mujeres Libres, Spanish for "free women", which provides support such as job help and small business workshops. Others belong to the non-profit Citizen Group for the Decriminalization Abortion.

One victim of sexual assault was one of those who asked for anonymity.

These are their stories.

CINTHIA

Cinthia Rodriguez (33), had a stillbirth in 2008 at her home. The family tried to call an ambulance, but instead a patrol of police officers took her to the hospital where she was tied to a gurney. She was told by officers that she was being held for inducing an unplanned abortion. Later, she was charged with aggravated murder and sentenced for 30 years.

She said that her dreams included studying, working, helping my family and taking care of my child. All of my dreams were thwarted when it was revealed that I would be living in the '30' years.

Guards told her to not reveal the reason she was convicted while in prison. She was beaten up by other prisoners when she revealed the truth to them. She recalled, "They used to call them the baby killers."

She has a tattoo on her right hand that reminds her of the day in 2014 when her father was killed. After 11 years, a court sentenced her to a commuted sentence in 2019.

Rodriguez hopes her story will inspire other women to be free and end the country's obstetrical policy.

Two of her friends, who were also in similar cases, played with her daughter as she spoke.

Rodriguez stated, "I'm always going be there supporting her." "I also hope that she will join me and my friends during this struggle. I wish she is a strong, independent woman like her mother.

ZULEYMA

Zuleyma Beltran was pregnant with her second child in 1999. She felt intense pain and fainted. She lost her pregnancy. She was suspected of having had an abortion. Police interrogated her vigorously. She was eventually convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 26-years.

She said, "It's a life time." "I used to tell myself, 'I'm never leaving this place.'

One of her sisters was in prison and took her little girl in. Beltran was not recognized by the girl when she was released ten years later.

Beltran was initially unsuccessful in finding a job and felt stigmatized. However, her daughter encouraged Beltran to persevere. They set up a cart to sell hot dogs on the streets in San Salvador, the capital.

She said, "She taught me many things about how to face the outside world." At 22 years old, the daughter died.

Beltran was a Mujeres Libres member many years ago.

She said, "We cry, laugh, and we talk about all we've been through."

She lives today with her 8-year-old daughter at the house where they all meet. To make ends meet, she sells perfume and hopes to own a business.

Beltran stated, "I want people to see that even though they've faced a great obstacle, we can still make it."

MARIANA

Mariana Lopez was arrested in 2000 for having an abortion and losing her baby. She was eventually convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 17 years in prison before her 25-year sentence was reduced.

She was already a mother to a 4-year old son when she went to prison. He is now 26. She has not been able to mend their relationship since her release.

Lopez stated that there was resentment. Lopez said, "It was really hard for him to not live a normal lifestyle."

She lives in San Salvador with her mother, 7-year old daughter and their dog. In prison, she learned to bake bread and now makes baguettes every morning before dawn. She dreams of owning her own bakery one day.

Mujeres Libres offers violin lessons to her daughter. The group recently made it a tradition to travel to the beach with the children and women.

Lopez stated, "We see it like a family." Lopez said, "We see ourselves as sisters because it was a familial unit when our blood wasn't available."

KAREN

Karen was 21 years old and was pregnant when she fainted in her grandmother’s house. When she woke up, she was handcuffed to a hospital bed gurney. In 2015, she was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison for her actions in terminating her pregnancy.

"They told me I was a murderer, and that I would be paying for my crime," she stated. "That I was going rot in prison."

Karen was told by other prisoners that she did not deserve to die in prison. She was released in December after seven years.

She tries to make up the time she lost by playing soccer with her son, 14, and making his favorite dishes, refried beans or fried plantains.

Karen stated, "I never lost faith that God would grant me my freedom. I was innocent." "And I asked God each day to reunite with my son."

CINDY

Justin, Cindy's 4-year-old son, was in prison in 2014 for stillbirth after she gave birth in a mall bathroom. He would not see her again for four years.

She was at the time studying English and tourism. All that was put on hold.

She said, "What I most reflect on is the losses." Everything is gone. ... How will you start again? How will you recover your time with your family?

She lives today with her son, parents, and is back at school. Her mother and she make pinatas to celebrate children's birthdays. Justin wanted a pinata in the shape of a dinosaur so she made one.

Cindy wants to work in a tourism agency, and resume her English lessons. Father and son want to travel together.

Cindy stated, "To forget all," and "to start over in a new location."

IMELDA

Imelda claims that she was repeatedly raped by her mother's boyfriend from the age of 8 to 18, and then became pregnant by him. She gave birth unexpectedly to the baby in a latrine in 2017 and lost consciousness.

Although the child survived, Imelda was charged with attempted murder due to the circumstances surrounding her birth. After a court ruled that she hadn't tried to kill the baby, she was released from prison in 2018.

She has been studying to be a nurse since her release. She strongly believes that a woman shouldn't be forced to have a fetus she conceived through rape.

"What young girl wants to be a mom?" They are innocent," Imelda, now 24, said. "Those 10-year old girls who are raped want to play and study. I have always wanted to be a mother, but not a mother.

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Marcos Aleman, an Associated Press journalist from San Salvador, contributed to this report.

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Associated Press's coverage of religion is supported by The Conversation US and the AP's partnership with The Conversation US. Funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. This content is the sole responsibility of The Associated Press.

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