Debevoise Acts Pro Bono for the Center for Reproductive Rights in Securing UN Recommendations to Overturn El Salvador’s Criminalization of Abortion

13 March 2017

The London office of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has advised the Center for Reproductive Rights on a pro bono basis as it secured strong, ground-breaking recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva (“CEDAW Committee”) to overturn El Salvador’s total criminalization of abortion.

El Salvador’s abortion ban is total. There are no exceptions even in cases of rape or incest, where there is a threat to the woman’s life or health, or even where the foetus is unviable. To exacerbate the problem, El Salvador requires health professionals to override patient confidentiality and report patients to the police who they merely suspect may have had an abortion. The ban has also given rise to injustices such as 40 year prison sentences being handed to women following miscarriages.

Alongside the Center for Reproductive Rights, Debevoise made representations to the CEDAW Committee explaining the harsh and tragic effects on El Salvador women of this legislation, including in many cases the incarceration of entirely innocent women. The representations also addressed how this severe legislation violates El Salvador’s obligations under the CEDAW Convention. Debevoise lawyers participated in the CEDAW Committee’s deliberations in Geneva in February, helping present testimony by a woman directly impacted by El Salvador’s stance.

On 3 March 2017, the CEDAW Committee published its Concluding Observations, drawing significantly from Debevoise’s work, and recommending that El Salvador:

  • amend its legislation so as to legalise abortion “at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the pregnant woman, or severe foetal impairment”;
  • introduce a moratorium on the enforcement of the current law and review the detention of women currently detained for abortion-related offences; and
  • ensure that professional secrecy of health personnel and patient confidentiality is guaranteed.

The Debevoise team was led by London partner Patrick Taylor, and included associates Boxun Yin, Mark McCloskey and Camilla Gambarini, supported by associates Akima Paul Lambert, Pam Shearing, Roni Pacht and Panagiotis Georgilis.

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