TORONTO, April 11, 2014 ( – It is totally illegal for a mother to abort her child in El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. But the amazing story about how a country with a name meaning “savior” came to constitutionally protect its unborn children from conception — despite ongoing massive international pressure to the contrary — remains practically unknown.

“It was a miracle,” said Julia Cardenal, president of Sí a la Vida (Yes to Life Foundation) of San Salvador, to attendees at Campaign Life Coalition’s national pro-life conference last weekend in Toronto.

Cardenal related to about 200 attendees how underdeveloped countries like El Salvador depend on foreign aid to help improve the country. But she said that such aid usually comes with “reproductive rights” strings attached.


She remembers one cabinet minister saying after returning from a foreign assistance meeting in Europe: “All these people want to do is talk about abortion.”

“If you go to the international conferences of the United Nations, it’s incredible how in every treaty they want to put [in] abortion,” she said.

In 1998, a massive pro-life effort resulted in El Salvador removing from its 1973 penal code exceptions that permitted abortion, including to save the mother’s life, and in cases of rape and serious congenital disorder. Abortion was now illegal, but the victory was tenuous.

Pro-lifers feared foreign aid groups would too easily woo the country into signing onto a treaty that would override the penal code and effectively bring back abortion. They knew the only way to guarantee protection for the unborn was a constitutional amendment that no treaty could override.

Cardenal and her group began a national campaign for a constitutional amendment that would “defend the right to life from conception.”

They went mainstream with their message. They visited schools. They educated people across the country “about abortion and why it is important to defend life from conception.”

They passed the first hurdle when about half of the country’s legislators voted for the amendment. But for the amendment to be enshrined in the constitution, it had to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the next parliamentary period.

But then an election was called and a significant number of pro-life legislators lost their seats to socialists. Pro-lifers felt sure the amendment was doomed.

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“We thought it was going to be impossible to get it, but we said we have to try. We have to do our best,” said Cardenal.

Pro-lifers immediately ramped-up their efforts, calling for a national prayer campaign. The spiritual battle reached its height during the last three days of the legislative period for that year.

“We sat for three days inside and outside the legislative assembly praying the rosary. We would go [up to legislators] with holy water on our hands and [pat their back or shake their hand and] say: ‘Hi how are you.’”

What happened next shocked everyone.

“When the time came for the vote, the first one who spoke was a socialist woman who said: ‘I’m going to give my vote as a woman and as a medical doctor for the constitutional amendment.”

“After that, there was no vote against it,” said Cardenal to applause.

“We could not believe [it]. It was a miracle.”

As of February 3, 1999, El Salvador began to “recognize as a human person every human being since the moment of conception.”

In spite of such a decided victory, the international abortion lobby has continued attempts to bring abortion back, even though El Salvador boasts a relatively low maternal mortality rate, said Cardenal.

In 2006, the New York Times produced what critics denounced as a ‘hit piece’ against the country’s pro-life movement. The piece highlighted a tale of woe of a woman who was reported to have had an illegal abortion when she was 18 weeks pregnant and was sentenced to thirty years in prison.

A LifeSiteNews investigation at the time, however, found the story to be entirely false since court documents prove the woman was actually found guilty of infanticide after she strangled her full-term baby shortly after birth. The New York Times initially refused to correct the story, but later issued a correction after the paper’s ombudsman called them out.

Last June, United Nations human right experts and abortion advocates attempted to use the ‘hard case’ of a Salvadoran woman who suffered from lupus and who carried a baby with a fatal condition to change the law against abortion. The “Beatriz” case backfired when the mother delivered a baby girl through an emergency caesarian section who died within hours from natural causes. The mother meanwhile progressed towards recovery.

Cardenal said that El Salvador’s pro-lifers have to be constantly on their guard against opening the door to abortion even the slightest bit.

She says hard work and prayer will win in the end. “We have to do our work, but our work is done through prayer, because if we don’t have the Spirit … there is no way,” she said.