Patricia Wallin, an abortion rights activist from El Salvador, has seen the film Fly So Far at least five times. When she first watched the movie, Wallin said she was shocked to see how criminalizing abortion disproportionately hurts impoverished women due to a lack of access to legal representation.
“It wasn’t until I watched the documentary that I realized how serious this was and how it was affecting the most vulnerable women,” Wallin said.
Abortion has been completely prohibited in El Salvador since 1998. Due to this, many women in the country have been imprisoned after having a miscarriage. Celina Haydee Escher’s film Fly So Far tells the stories of 17 women from El Salvador who were imprisoned for 30 years on charges of aggravated homicide after having miscarriages.
The movie Fly So Far, directed by Celina Haydee Escher, was shown in Chicago as part of the Chicago Latino Film Festival in April of this year.
Fly So Far highlights the story of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, a woman who had a miscarriage and was sentenced to prison in El Salvador. While in prison, she found a community of 17 other women who were imprisoned under the same charges as her.
While she was at work, Vasquez experienced extreme pain. She called the police seven times before she lost consciousness and fainted in a bathroom. By the time she woke up, she had been taken to a police station. She was then told she would be sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide and supposedly aborting her fetus.
Under article one of El Salvador’s constitution, a human life is considered as such from “the moment of conception.” This means that under their laws, abortion is considered an act of murder.
Terminating a pregnancy can land someone in jail for up to eight years in the country. However, judges often find people guilty of aggravated homicide. This can lead them to imprisonment for up to 50 years.
Watching this movie sparked Wallin to speak out about abortion rights. One of her favorite scenes is when Vasquez talks passionately about the ways people should be lifting the voices of those imprisoned in El Salvador for having miscarriages or abortions so their voices do not disappear behind bars.
Wallin said there are moments she is afraid to give speeches during protests. When fear arises, she says she thinks back to the movie and it fuels her with strength to grab the microphone.
She said she feels she has more freedom in the United States to speak out about unlawful practices of the government. Wallin said she uses her opportunities to speak about abortion rights because she realizes the people in El Salvador may not have the same freedom to protest.
At times, Wallin does not feel confident in the speeches she gives but wants to do her part by spreading the word about abortion rights.
“I’m so shy about doing the interviews, or going to the protests and speaking on the microphone,” Wallin said. “I don’t want their voices [Salvadorian people] to be silenced behind the bars, so I never know what I’m going to say, and it’s nerve-racking.”
She said it’s overwhelming to think of so many women in prison for having an abortion or being accused of doing so.
“Sometimes I just feel like I just want to cry and not to do it,” Wallin said. “Then I think about that thing about the movie, and I’m like no they’re behind bars, and I’m out here. I should do it.”
Sammy Lines, a member of the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights chapter in Chicago, watched the movie in theaters. Lines had an illegal abortion in the United States in 1969 and said the hardest part of watching the movie was seeing mothers grieve their miscarriages in prison without being able to receive support from their families.
“On top of your loss, they treat you as a murderer and there’s nothing that can change their mind, and that’s like really, really sick,” Lines said. “People mourn when they have a stillborn or a spontaneous abortion – a miscarriage – and it’s very sad. Some women it takes a long time for them to get over that, and then to have to do that for 30 years in jail is just unconscionable.”
Lapis Lazuli has been a Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights youth organizer since February and watched Fly So Far for the first time with Lines. After watching, they said it encouraged them to use their voice louder during abortion rights protests in Chicago.
Less than one week after watching the movie, the U.S. Supreme Court document was leaked, detailing its draft plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roughly two months later, the legal protection was overturned. Currently, eight states have outlawed abortion.
Lazuli said that after watching the movie, they realized the way issues are never localized in just one part of the world. They said when one part of the country suffers, a ripple effect occurs and learning from history is an antidote for the past not repeating itself.
“All these events that you learn about in high school and these historical moments, it’s happening now,” Lapis said. “This is that time. It’s never just one thing that happens and it’s in the books. It’s a culmination and a process, and we’re living in it now.”
Wallin keeps in contact with Vasquez, who still lives in El Salvador and is continuing to fight for the release of the other women still in prison. Wallin included her in a recent Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights meeting to discuss how to continue fighting for the right to abortion in the United States after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
During the meeting, Wallin asked Vasquez how it felt for the U.S to expect support from Salvadorian women about abortion rights despite the U.S not reciprocating the same level of support for her when she was in prison for 10 years.
“No, we will fight beside you because we know what it’s like to not have the support,” Wallin remembers Vasquez saying. “So now if your country’s going through it, we will be there to support you because you’re not alone.”
Surprised by her response, Wallin teared up hearing Vasquez’s words. She said it inspires her to always continue the fight.
Recently, another woman from El Salvador was also sentenced 30 years for charges of aggravated homicide after having an obstetric emergency.
Wallin said the fight for abortion rights continues because while some women in El Salvador get out of prison, others go in. ‘Fly So Far’ keeps giving her the strength she needs to keep fighting.