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El Salvador: The fight for Sara Rogel, the Salvadoran woman sentenced to 30 years in jail after having a miscarriage | USA

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International Day of Action for Women's Health in San Salvador on May 28.
International Day of Action for Women’s Health in San Salvador on May 28.JOSE CABEZAS / Reuters

The parents of Sara Rogel were waiting excitedly for the release of their daughter, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after having an accident at home in El Salvador that caused her to have a miscarriage. She was found guilty of aggravated murder when she was 20 years old, and has been in prison for the past 10 years. But on Monday a judge in Cojutepeque ordered Rogel’s release on the grounds that she had served most of her sentence and “did not represent a danger to society.” But the joy over the news did not last long – the public prosecutor soon announced it would appeal the decision. “We have been waiting 10 years, 10 years without her,” said Ángel Rogel, as he stood without protesters in support of his daughter outside the court.

Sara Rogel was born in Santa Cruz Analquito, a small municipality in the department of Cuscatlán that is home to fewer than 3,000 people. In October 2012, she slipped as she was washing clothes and the accident caused her to lose her unborn child. “It was a pregnancy in the late stages. It was a wanted child,” explained Morena Herrera, the president of the Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. “Because of the accident, she lost the baby and suffered severe hemorrhaging that meant she had to be taken to the hospital. There, they accused her of having an abortion and later they changed the type of crime and sentenced her to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder.” The autopsy showed that the fetus had suffered head trauma, which led the judge to determine that it was an intentional blow.

We have been waiting 10 years, 10 years without her

Ángel Rogel, Sara Rogel’s father

Feminist groups and human rights advocates have been fighting the courts for Rogel’s release for a decade in El Salvador, which has one of the strictest Criminal Codes with respect to abortion. In addition to Rogel, 18 women have been sentenced for crimes relating to obstetric emergencies, and in 2019, 181 were accused in cases concerning abortion. “More than 10 women have been accused between 2020 and 2021 so far, but we have stopped them from being sentenced,” said Herrera.

The Salvadoran public prosecutor has five days to appeal the court’s decision to release Rogel, whose legal team then has another five days to respond to the appeal. “The process could again go to the highest court and could last another month. [Rogel] could have been released today. We were preparing a party to celebrate her freedom,” said Herrera. “We are going to pressure the public prosecutor because it does make sense for them to appeal.”

El Salvador is one of the countries targeted by international organizations over its hardline anti-abortion laws. A group of experts from the United Nations called on the country’s controversial president, Nayib Bukele, to free three women who were imprisoned after suffering obstetric emergencies that led to miscarriages. The UN argued that the jailing of these women was “arbitrary detention,” and called on Salvadoran authorities to compensate them for the damage caused and to order an exhaustive investigation to punish those responsible. One of these women was Evelyn Hernández, who was arrested in 2016 for aggravated murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby. Hernández, who had been raped by a gang member, did not even know she was pregnant. Like Rogel, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but was acquitted last year after several years of international pressure.

In addition to Rogel, 18 women have been sentenced for crimes relating to obstetric emergencies

In early May, women’s groups in Salvador suffered a major setback when the Legislative Assembly, which is controlled by President Bukele, shelved a 2016 proposed reform to the Criminal Code, that argued for abortion to be decriminalized in cases of rape, where the life of the mother is at risk, or when the fetus has no chance of surviving outside of the uterus.

But despite the setback, feminist organizations are continuing to pressure the Salvadoran government to reform the country’s draconian Criminal Code. “We are hopeful,” said Herrera. “On Friday we are going to present letters to deputies so that they establish a roundtable to restart negotiation on the law initiatives. What’s more, we have two cases open in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

Given the recent upset, the court’s decision on Monday to grant Rogel’s release offered hope to the groups that are fighting for women’s rights in the highly conservative country. The ruling should have seen Rogel freed, but she remains in prison. The party organized for her didn’t go ahead on Monday, nor were her parents able to bring their daughter back home. “The ruling offers a lot of hope, but the lack of will from the representation in the public prosecution has stopped it from being followed,” explained Herrera.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA

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In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.

But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.

The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.

This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.

Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”

Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.

Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.

Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want

Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders

In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”

Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”

The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.

Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.

Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.



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Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

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Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

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Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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