A woman was jailed for having a stillbirth. Over 10 years later she has walked free.


Content warning: this post deals with pregnancy loss. If you or a loved one has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a newborn, support is available via SANDS Australia. Call them anytime on 1300 072 637.

School cafeteria cook Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was nine months pregnant when she was struck by a piercing pain in her abdomen. The Salavadoran called for help, but blood began running heavily down her legs. Before emergency services could reach the 24-year-old, she lost consciousness.

When Teodora woke, she was surrounded by police. Her baby had died, they told her, and she was being accused of its murder.

As reported by The Guardian, Teodora was ultimately sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide in February 2008, after a Salvadoran court determined that the child had been born alive and asphyxiated.

Throughout the process, Teodora has vehemently maintained her innocence. And this week, after more than 10 years behind bars, she was finally freed.

The central American nation’s Supreme Court commuted her sentence on Thursday after an appeal successfully discredited the autopsy report on which her conviction had been clinched.

Teodora is finally free. Image: AAP.

According to The Guardian, Teodora is the 16th woman to be released from prison in the conservative Catholic country following successful wave of appeals lead by reproductive rights groups.

These woman - often young and poor - are victims of overzealous enforcement of the ultra-conservative country's anti-abortion laws.

Since 1998, pregnancy termination has been subject to a blanket ban in El Salvador, even in cases of rape, severe foetal deformity and risk to the life of the mother. The maximum jail term for the offence is eight years, but in many cases - including Teodora's - women are instead prosecuted for aggravated homicide.

The New York Times reported that women's groups believe that at least 28 women have been imprisoned in the country after experiencing pregnancy loss caused by obstetric complications.

Last year a teenage rape survivor, for example, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after the stillbirth of her child. Her conviction was achieved on the grounds that failing to seek antenatal care amounted to murder.

Listen: What you can do to help someone after pregnancy loss: advice from someone who's been there. (Post continues below...)

In Teodora's case, the Supreme Court allowed her freedom for “powerful reasons of justice and fairness”, though her conviction was not overturned.

In the eyes of the law, she remains a murderer. As do the other women like her who remain behind bars.

While she told media this week that she is excited to be released and see her 13-year-old son, it was with those women that her thoughts remained.

“I am not complete,” she said, according to The New York Times. “I am committed to fight for them.”