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Teresa didn’t know she was pregnant. Then, one day she started to contract and delivered a stillborn baby. For this, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison – despite a lack of evidence demonstrating that she somehow induced the miscarriage. Teresa is one of at least 15 women imprisoned in El Salvador for a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other obstetric emergency.

El Salvador is one of only five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with a total ban on abortion – with no exceptions. If a woman encounters a severe health complication in her pregnancy that threatens her life, her doctors can’t legally terminate her pregnancy. She has no legal choice but to accept the deterioration of her health and her possible death.

Women take part in a demostration against anti-abortion laws at the congress in San Salvador April 22, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

El Salvador’s draconian law and its over-zealous implementation impacts mostly poor women from poor communities. The 15 imprisoned women have little resources and had little or no access to quality maternal healthcare. All of them have been convicted of murder for pregnancy-related crimes and face 30 to 40-year sentences.

Fifty-five members of the United States Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry this morning raising concerns about the imprisonment of these 15 women. In the letter, they asked him to work with the Salvadoran government, lawmakers, and human rights organizations to re-examine the cases of these 15 women, and others like them.

The Salvadoran and US governments have worked together on a number of important women’s rights initiatives in El Salvador – including programs to prevent violence against women. Women behind bars for obstetric emergencies is an ongoing human rights violation that cannot and should not be ignored by either government. Kerry should heed the call and urge the government of El Salvador to re-examine the cases of these women.

Want to help? Click here to take action and by calling on Kerry to help free these women! 

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