SAN SALVADOR ( Associated Press) — A court in El Salvador has sentenced a woman who suffered an obstetric emergency and was captured while seeking medical care at a public hospital to 30 years in prison. Although she was first accused of having an abortion, she was convicted of the crime of aggravated homicide, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion reported on Tuesday.
“Esme”, as the woman is identified, spent two years in preventive detention while the judicial process continued, separating her from her seven-year-old daughter.
Many women accused of abortion prefer that their identity not be disclosed because they mostly live in rural areas and are often stigmatized.
The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a non-governmental organization that helps women criminalized for health emergencies during their pregnancy, stated in a press release that “the judge acted with bias, favoring the version offered by the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic, which was loaded with stigmas and gender stereotypes”, and they announced that they are going to appeal the resolution.
The sentence that condemns “Esme” to 30 years in prison “is a blow on the road to overcoming the criminalization of obstetric emergencies that, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has already pointed out, must be treated as problems of public health and guarantees of women’s rights”, said Monera Herrera, of the feminist group.
The collective pointed out that the case of “Esme” once again reflects the criminalization of women who live in poverty, without access to education and health services.
In the last two decades, about 180 women who have experienced obstetric emergencies have been criminally prosecuted in El Salvador. Since 2009, thanks to pressure from the feminist collective, 64 have been released. Since December 2021, the Salvadoran government has commuted the sentences of eight women who suffered obstetric emergencies and who were prosecuted for abortion.
El Salvador is one of the four countries in Latin America that prohibits abortion without exceptions, along with Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Human rights organizations have demanded that the Salvadoran State repeal the law that prohibits the interruption of pregnancy, but to no avail.
In November 2020, the IACHR declared the Salvadoran State responsible for violating the rights of a woman identified as “Manuela,” who was arrested in 2008 and after being sentenced to 30 years, died in prison, leaving her two children orphaned. The collective affirms that “Manuela” was denied medical attention while she was detained.
Salvadoran law criminalizes all forms of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, and punishes both women and doctors who perform them. If found guilty, the sentences vary from two to eight years. However, in many cases the crime changes to aggravated homicide due to the victim’s kinship and women can be sentenced to 30 years in prison.