Abortion in El Salvador

El Salvador is one of the few remaining countries in the world to ban abortion under all circumstances. In fact, the law is so strict, women who have natural miscarriages are imprisoned because they are unable to prove the lost pregnancy was unintentional.

Our client came to us wanting credible, current data on El Salvadorians’ public opinion on abortion so they could strike while the political iron was hot and persuade legislators to relax this oppressive and dangerous law. We listened to the reasons and objectives our clients had in commissioning this research and designed a study and methodology to accomplish their goals.

SELECT THE RIGHT AUDIENCE: Because their ultimate communication targets were politicians, we thoughtfully recommended using a representative sample of Salvadoran voters instead of a general population sample since the thoughts and opinions of likely voters would carry more weight with the legislators willing to vote in favor of changing the law but worried about the political backlash.

USE AUTHENTIC LANGUAGE: Until that point, the term “abortion” had not been used in previous research or by our client in their work on the ground, instead using the phrase “interrupted pregnancy.” However, at Untold Research, we believe in using language that speaks authentically to the audience, in their words, so we insisted on using the term “abortion” throughout the survey.

CREATE UNBIASED INTERVIEWING OPPORTUNITIES: As mentioned, abortion is illegal in El Salvador. Previous research utilized in-person interviewers, but how likely is it for a citizen to openly admit they support illegal activity? This obvious source of survey error needed to be corrected in order to encourage honest responses. So, we programmed the survey onto digital tablets for respondents to read and select answers in complete confidentiality while a member of the field staff stood nearby to provide help if needed. By removing social biases and increasing confidence in anonymity, we were able to collect more reliable data.

After sewing up a number of other methodological holes, Untold Research conducted a survey that not only gauged public opinion on the approval of current abortion laws, but also explored the efficacy of certain words, phrases, and messages when communicating with Salvadorans on this issue. In keeping with our organizational beliefs of empowering altruistic organizations to do more good, we leveraged local connections to hire and train twenty Salvadoran women who canvassed their country collecting data.

THE RESULT?  Armed with this landmark research, our client was able to walk into legislators’ office and inform them that four out of five Salvadoran voters believe women should be allowed to get an abortion under at least one circumstance and a majority believe the abortion ban should change. Thus, giving legislators the confidence they needed to support changing the law without risking their jobs.

Unfortunately, while this never reached a legislative vote in 2017, this research made headlines across the country and was featured on a number of local radio and television news stories as well as international news publications. It also continues to help grassroot reproductive rights advocates and organizers galvanize political support for changing this oppressive law and signals to Salvadorans that their voices are being heard and valued.