Salvadoran women rally to demand the decriminalization of abortion in front of the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador on September 28, 2016.

The people fighting the world's harshest abortion law

Updated 7:38 AM ET, Mon July 10, 2017

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El Salvador's ban on abortion is one of the toughest in the world, but for the first time in 20 years, there are signs the law could be weakened. These are some of the men and women spearheading the country's movement for women's rights.

San Salvador, El Salvador (CNN) -- María Teresa Rivera was 28 when her mother-in-law found her bleeding heavily on the bathroom floor. She rushed Rivera to the hospital, desperate to save her life, but when they arrived, medics took one look at the young woman and called the police.
As Rivera lay in her bloodied clothes, police officers questioned her about what had happened to her baby. She says she had not known she was pregnant until that moment.
Despite evidence showing the fetus had died of natural causes, Rivera was later found guilty of "aggravated homicide." She was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
"Life in jail was hell," says Rivera. She and others in similar situations had "lost children, families, and everything. And the saddest part of it all was that we're paying a conviction for a 'crime' that never existed."
"I do not want another woman to go to prison," she says. "Instead of protecting our health and freedom, the Salvadoran state and the law criminalizes and tortures poor girls and women like me."

Lengthy prison sentences

In El Salvador, a small Central American country with a population of more than six million, El Salvadoran women who have an abortion, or simply miscarry, can face up to 50 years in prison.
At an abortion rights demonstration, this campaigner has a message for the Catholic Church: "Keep your rosaries away from our ovaries."