A woman in El Salvador has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the death of her unborn child following an obstetric emergency, according to a rights group.
The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion said on Monday that the 28-year-old woman, identified by the court only as “Esme”, had suffered a health emergency while pregnant in 2019 and sought assistance at a local hospital. She was later convicted of homicide and handed the lengthy sentence after serving two years of pre-trial detention, according to the group.
The case is the first of its kind in the past seven years in the country, the group said. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, even in cases of rape and when the woman’s health is in danger. Rights observers say the law, which went into effect in 1998, is enforced to such an extent that women have been punished for having miscarriages, stillbirths, or other obstetric emergencies.
“(The ruling) is a hard blow for the road to overcome the criminalisation of obstetric emergencies that, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has already pointed out, must be treated as public health problems,” Morena Herrera, president of the group, said in a statement.
The ruling, which was not immediately confirmed by the government, would represent a step back for the Latin American country, which has attracted international condemnation for its strict abortion laws. Over the last 20 years, the government has criminally prosecuted some 181 women who suffered obstetric emergencies, according to The Citizen Group.
The conviction follows a string of decisions to release women who were reportedly convicted in similar circumstances.
In 2021, advocates and celebrities rallied behind the “Las 17” movement, which highlighted 17 women who had been convicted for suffering a miscarriage or an obstetric emergency. Five of those women have since been released from prison, according to Human Rights Watch.
In November of last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that El Salvador had violated the rights of a woman identified as Manuela who was sent to prison for breaching the abortion laws and died while serving her 30-year sentence.
Esme’s lawyers said in a statement to Reuters news agency that they would appeal the decision. They noted it was the first conviction of its kind under the administration of President Nayib Bukele, who had previously said no woman should be jailed for an obstetric emergency.
Neither the Salvadoran attorney general’s office nor the communications office of the country’s judicial authority immediately responded to a request for comment from Reuters regarding the conviction.
While past attempts to legalise abortion in El Salvador have largely failed, advocates of abortion hopes have voiced hope that a so-called “green wave” of laws loosening restrictions on abortions in the region could influence national politics