U.S. lawmakers call on El Salvador to free women ‘wrongfully’ jailed for illegal abortions

Members of congress are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to lean on El Salvador’s president to “re-examine” his government’s draconian anti-abortion laws, which have been used to incarcerate dozens of women on charges of aggravated homicide for having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

In a world full of bad laws, El Salvador’s anti-abortion legislation, in place since 1998, is in contention to be among the worst in the hemisphere. It denies women the right to life-saving medical procedures to terminate risky or unviable pregnancies, and has led to the tyrannical incarceration of dozens of Salvadoran women — mostly young, and all poor — for failing to give birth to a healthy baby.

Related: Teen sentenced to 30 years for miscarriage could be pardoned in El Salvador.

“A woman with severe complications during pregnancy must accept her own death rather than undergo a live-saving abortion procedure because there are no exceptions to this law,” reads the letter, penned by Representatives Debbie Wasserman (D-FL) and Norma Torres (D-CA) and signed by 53 other lawmakers.

The lawmakers’ letter goes on to blast the Central American country’s “regressive” abortion ban as as a violation of women’s “basic human rights” by “wrongfully” imprisoning women with a lack of due process. The U.S. lawmakers call on the Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez, who is copied on the letter, to “review the cases of these who who are currently incarcerated, with an eye towards freeing them.”

“For the past few months, human rights organizations around the world have been advocating for the wrongfully imprisoned women in El Salvador, and recently the Legislative Assembly voted to pardon one of these women,” reads the letter. “But too many women remain behind bars, sentenced for having had, in many cases, nothing more than obstetric emergencies.”

Related: Salvadoran woman jailed for miscarriage pardoned after 7 years behind bars.

Human rights activists in El Salvador started a campaign in April 2014 calling for the release of “The 17,” a group of incarcerated women serving sentences of 12-40 years for having illegal abortions. The oldest member of the group is 29, but many are in their teens.

In reality, the number of Salvadoran women serving time for illegal abortions is at least 29, but a dozen of them are still appealing their sentences in court. The 17 women for whom the #Las17 campaign is named have exhausted all judicial options and must appeal for a political pardon.