A court in El Salvador has sentenced a woman who suffered a miscarriage to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide, in a case which activists said offers a stark warning to women in the United States, where the supreme court is considering overturning a key ruling which legalized abortion.
The woman, identified only as “Esme”, was sentenced on Monday, after nearly two years under pre-trial detention, following her arrest when she sought medical care in a public hospital.
“Esme’s sentencing is a devastating step backward for the progress that has been made in the unlawful criminalization of women suffering obstetric emergencies in El Salvador,” said Paula Avila-Guillen, international human rights lawyer and executive director of the Women’s Equality Center.
Avila-Guillen warned that as the United States faces the possible overturning of Roe v Wade – the 1973 supreme court ruling that effectively legalised abortion – similar cases will become more common across the world.
“We have seen repeatedly throughout Latin America that when abortion is criminalized, women are made to prove that any one of the wide range of obstetric emergencies they experience were in fact emergencies. When they can’t or don’t have the resources to do so or are simply not believed, they face imprisonment,” she said.
“Everyone in the US should have their eyes on El Salvador right now to understand exactly what a future without Roe entails.”
Morena Herrera, the president of The Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion described the sentence as “a heavy blow”, and called for miscarriages to be treated as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.
“We will continue to fight so that all women unjustly criminalized by these circumstances regain their freedom and have the opportunity to remake and rebuild their lives,” she said.
El Salvador has some of the world’s most draconian abortion laws, with a total ban on the procedure. Unlike in many other Latin American countries, El Salvador does not permit abortion in cases where the child is conceived by rape or incest, or where the health of the mother or child is at risk.
Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.
Since December, eight women serving long prison sentences have had those sentences commuted.