El Salvador has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, with abortion criminalized in all cases, even when the woman’s life or health is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest. One of the most serious consequences of the total ban is the incarceration and wrongful imprisonment of numbers of women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages.
Such is the case of Las 17, 17 women who, upon accessing healthcare facilities as a result of miscarriages, stillbirths, or other life-threatening obstetrical complications, were accused of having undergone an abortion, charged with aggravated homicide, and received prison sentences of up to 40 years, even though prosecutors were unable to provide any evidence demonstrating that these women had committed any misconduct or that they were responsible for their miscarriages or stillbirths. All of these women were presumed guilty rather than innocent, were refused a standard of reasonable doubt, and were denied their rights to due process. As of today, 15 of Las 17 are still in prison, while additional women are incarcerated and on trial, facing similar charges and sentences.(Read More)
On April 1st 2014, La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto submitted 17 requests for pardons on behalf of Las 17 to the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly. On January 21st 2015, we celebrated an important victory, when after a year of working closely with a coalition of partners led by La Agrupación, the Congress of El Salvador approved the pardon of Guadalupe, one of Las 17, by a razor-thin number of 43 votes. In spite of this tremendous achievement, remarkable civil society mobilizations, and the recent recommendation from a group of United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs urging El Salvador to pardon all women jailed for pregnancy complications and repeal the country’s restrictive abortion laws, we recently learned that the remaining pardon requests for Las 17 will soon be denied.
In light of these recent developments we are at a critical juncture where it is integral that these and other Salvadoran women do not lose hope, and that the international community continues to call on El Salvador to uphold its human rights commitments, repeal its restrictive laws, and free all women jailed for pregnancy complications. In honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2015, we invite all members, partners, and allies to send us your “Words of Hope” through postcards and letters, which we will forward to the remaining Las 17 and other incarcerated women on 1 April 2015, marking one year since the original requests for their pardon.
Read letters they wrote from prison, send them a printed postcard or a virtual message to let them know they are not alone, and show your support!
Click here to visit the Website of Las 17 and of La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto to read the full cases of the 17 women and watch videos. You can also follow the case through the international media by clicking on the articles from the different news channels: (BBC, AlJazeera, Reuters, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Deutsche Welle).
As a result of the extreme societal stigma surrounding abortion in El Salvador, women who are incarcerated on abortion-related charges experience extensive abuse and mistreatment while in prison. María Teresa and Kenia shared letters to express their gratitude in knowing they had advocates worldwide, and to thank you for your support.
Kenia is 20 years old and facing 30 years in prison.
Click here to read Kenia’s letter in English.
Hello, I am Kenia and I am almost 20 years old. On December 1st I will be 20 years old.
I want to share with you the gratitude I feel for each of those who are supporting us. Believe me, it gives me strength to know that there are many persons supporting us and everything you are doing for each of us won´t be in vain, for we all make mistakes and I believe we would not be persons if we didn´t make mistakes.
Thank you for that support. You are angels that God has put in our lives.
Now I know that I am not alone, as I thought before, when I felt alone, especially because of all the humiliations I have lived in this place. Sometimes I felt like nothing and I was about to take my life away in this place, but thanks to you, now I feel the strength to move on and remain positive.
Blessings to each of you and to your families,
María Teresa is 32 years old, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Click here to read Maria Teresa’s letter in English.
Firstly, I want to thank all of you. I feel very grateful towards everyone who has showed an interest in us. In this place, many times we’ve felt weak, many times we’ve felt depressed, but your presence and your interest in our cases make us feel stronger, you encourage us to move forward, to not stay behind.
The truth is, we’ve seen a lot of pain up-close, but your work gives us strength. At the beginning I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to live. I was sleeping in a cot and I thought of ending my life, because I thought I would never be able to leave this place. But then, God started opening doors for me and that is when I realized that there were people working for us, that we were not forgotten. This is what gives us hope: to know that we are not alone, that God is with us through your work. I really appreciate the work that everyone interested in us and our families is doing, because it gives us strength, it makes us move forward.
Thank you and may God bless you all,
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
La Morena 1101 (03023)
Col. Navarte Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico
Or click here to download a postcard: