(PRESS RELEASE) Today Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Norma J. Torres delivered a letter from 55 Member of Congress calling on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to look into the human rights violations of women in El Salvador.
The congressional letter details the cases of “Las 17,” women in El Salvador who suffered obstetric emergencies and were wrongly accused of having an abortion and later convicted for homicide under the country’s absolute ban on abortion. Members of Congress are calling for Secretary Kerry to discuss these human rights concerns with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador and to reexamine the cases of the women, who are currently serving sentences of up to 40 years.
El Salvador’s abortion ban is one of the harshest in the world, with the country repeatedly ignoring its international human rights obligations to ensure women’s reproductive health and rights. For more than 16 years, abortion in all circumstances has been criminalized, and countless women have been sentenced to years and even decades in prison under deplorable conditions—including women who simply suffered obstetric emergencies.
“A pregnant woman should never fear imprisonment when she needs emergency or life-saving medical care,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “President Cerén and El Salvador’s Congress have forced women to live under a cloud of fear, suspicion, and abuse because of the country’s draconian anti-abortion laws. We thank Representatives Wasserman Schultz and Torres for bringing Las 17 to the attention of Secretary Kerry and implore him to take whatever steps necessary to support their release.”
“It’s heartbreaking to know that these women were unjustly targeted and all because they needed access to medical services,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23). “They deserve justice and we ask Secretary Kerry, a strong supporter of women’s rights, to work with President Cerén to re-examine the cases of women incarcerated under El Salvador’s restrictive laws.”
Last December, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights launched the “Las 17” online campaign calling for the release of “Guadalupe” and 16 other Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were charged for having an abortion and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17” was released in December after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. The remaining 15 women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences.
In November, 12 countries denounced the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In January, a group of United Nations human rights experts called on El Salvador to review its abortion law and pardon all women jailed for obstetric emergencies.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than 12 years to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. Recently, the Center and Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted, and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortionthat documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban, and includes the personal stories of five women who were unfairly prosecuted for illegal abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies without receiving medical attention. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.