Sweden Gives Asylum to Pro-Choice 'Persecuted' Salvadoran Woman

(Photo: Jose Cabezas/Reuters)Maria Teresa asks for the release of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who was sentenced to prison for aggravated homicide after suffering a stillbirth at work.

A prominent pro-choice activist from El Salvador has become the first known person to be granted asylum for "abortion persecution" after Sweden agreed to provide her protection from "political persecution" in her country.

The Swedish Migration Agency has officially granted Maria Teresa Rivera and her 11-year-old son political asylum, reported Telesur, which also said that the agency agreed it is "clear that this (political) persecution is rooted partly in her sex as female," and "political opinions."

El Salvador banned abortion in all cases in 1998.

In 2011, Rivera experienced an unattended birth in the latrine at her home, and the baby died. She claims she didn't know she was pregnant and didn't realize she had given birth while on her toilet. Unconscious and having lost blood, she was taken to a public hospital where she was accused of infanticide.

The autopsy report found the baby was full term and the cause of death was perinatal asphyxiation, or lack of oxygen before, during, or after birth. 

She was later convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, a higher court ordered a re-investigation, which led to her acquittal.

Many pro-choice groups have used Rivera's case to argue for legalizing abortion in El Salvador, claiming the country's abortion ban put Rivera behind bars for a miscarriage, even though Rivera was not convicted of having an abortion and never claimed to have sought an abortion. Rivera also became an advocate for legalized abortion while in prison. 

Rivera applied for asylum in Sweden last year, and the agency reviewed her case granting her and her son an initial three-year asylum period with the potential for renewal, according to Rewire. Rivera sought asylum because the attorney general was trying to reopen her case. 

"This case exemplifies the Salvadoran government's criminalization of poverty and the social stigma with which many poor and marginalized women live under this government," Veronica Reyna of the Catholic Passionists' Human Rights Office in San Salvador was quoted as saying.

"Instead of repairing the damages that were done, the State looked to criminalize her once again. Thus, she felt obligated to leave her country and search for protection in another place."