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El Salvador: Free the wrongfully convicted women behind bars

Las 17

El Salvador’s draconian abortion law prevents women from accessing abortion under any circumstance—not even in cases of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life. More than 25 women are behind bars, some sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, after suffering miscarriages, stillbirths and other pregnancy-related complications.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked to expose the consequences of El Salvador’s abortion ban. Together with our partner Agrupación Ciudadana, we have filed two cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of nine women who had serious pregnancy complications and were wrongfully imprisoned.


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Alba Lorena Rodríguez Santos, 30, was raped and became pregnant. At 5 months into her pregnancy, she suffered an obstetric emergency. She was later sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide.
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“I need freedom for my daughters—they need me. There is great emptiness within me because I cannot see my girls, and they are what I adore most in my life.”
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Women of “Las 17” stand inside Ilopango’s prison in San Salvador. Twenty-five women remain wrongfully imprisoned for “aggravated homicide.”
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These women behind bars did not receive fair trials. Their legal and human rights were flagrantly disregarded by the Salvadoran government.
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“I am innocent. I’m paying for something I haven’t done.” –Evelyn Beatriz Hernández, 20, sentenced to 30 years in prison
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On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, tens of thousands of people took to the street in a women’s March in San Salvador, including those asking to free the “Las 17 and more.”
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Following 11 years of wrongful imprisonment after suffering a stillbirth, our client Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was released from prison on February 15, 2018, after her sentence was commuted.

We have a rare opportunity to amend El Salvador’s extreme abortion law and prevent more women’s rights from being unjustly violated.

Salvadoran legislators have the power to make a change, and can agree to vote on whether to allow abortion after rape or sexual violence, in cases where a fetus will not survive outside the uterus, or when a woman’s life or health are at risk.

Sign our petition right now calling on El Salvador to amend its abortion law and guarantee the right to health and life for women and girls.


WATCH: THE WOMEN BEHIND BARS

In March, 2018, we sat down with four women inside El Salvador’s Ilopango prison. Alba Lorena Rodríguez Santos, Ena Vinda Munguía, Evelyn Beatriz Hernández and Cinthia Marcela Rodríguez Ayala suffered pregnancy complications and were later convicted of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison. These are their stories.



SPOTLIGHT: THE WOMEN RELEASED

Teodora del Carmen Vásquez

Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was released after 11 years in prison. She was accused of intentionally ending her pregnancy after she suffered a stillbirth and was convicted of aggravated homicide. Unable to afford adequate legal counsel, Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison, leaving her 3-year-old son behind.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, Teodora was denied justice and freedom when a court reviewed her sentence in December 2017. The Salvadoran Supreme Court commuted her sentence and she was released in February 2018.

Teodora is finally free and reunited with her family and 13-year-old son.

Maira Veronica Figueroa

Maira Veronica Figueroa spent 15 years behind bars after suffering a miscarriage. At 19, she was raped. Before reaching full term, she experienced complications with her pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage.

Without any witnesses or direct proof, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, wrongfully accused of intentionally ending her pregnancy and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Maria Teresa Rivera

In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, Maria Teresa Rivera went into early labor, giving birth in a public restroom. Her family called emergency services and at the hospital the police were called on the suspicion that she induced an abortion. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Maria Teresa spent almost five years in prison under harsh conditions, but we successfully fought to free her, along with three other members of Las 17, and she was released in May 2016.

Now, Maria Teresa is advocating for the remaining members of Las 17 waiting to be freed and says that “what motivates me is their injustice.”