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Last week, a judge in El Salvador sentenced a woman to 50 years in prison after she suffered an obstetric emergency, resulting in losing her fetus.
During the pregnancy, Lesli Lisbeth Ramírez was 19 years old and five months when she had the miscarriage. Now 21 years old, she was found guilty of homicide by the court. This sentencing represents the most severe one ever imposed on a woman accused of having an abortion in El Salvador.
On June 17, 2020, Ramírez had the urge to use the bathroom; when she went to the toilet, she felt something come out and realized she had lost the fetus. Ramírez states that she was unaware that she was pregnant until that moment. Panicking, Ramírez informed her family members, and they called the police to take her to the hospital.
Ramírez attempted to cut the umbilical cord herself following the miscarriage, but she had no electricity, resulting in her distorted vision. However, Salvadorian officials claim that after she gave birth, Ramírez stabbed the baby six times in the neck.
Advocates support woman facing 50 years in El Salvador
While Salvadorian officials accuse her of killing her baby girl following her birth, advocates believe that she suffered a miscarriage. Some believe the ruling was rooted in gender discrimination and criminalizes women suffering from obstetric emergencies.
According to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a feminist civil society organization advocating for women, Ramírez gave birth in her home bathroom.
After the hospital, Ramírez was detained on suspicion of murder and freed after serving two years in preventive detention.
Under similar circumstances, another woman, only identified as Esme, was sentenced to 30 years in prison last May. Just like Ramírez, Esme suffered from an obstetric emergency, becoming the first to be convicted and imprisoned in seven years.
Esme’s reproductive related conviction was the first under President Nayib Bukele. The sentence was announced after he claimed to be easing abortion policies. Bukele has referenced abortion as a “great genocide”, yet has said he believes women should not be imprisoned for obstetric emergencies.
Woman who experienced miscarriage plans to appeal 50-year sentence
Ricardo Torres Arrieta, the judge who sentenced both Esme and Ramírez, told Ramírez, who is now 21 years old, that “mothers are the source of protection for their children in any circumstance of life, and you were not,” in defense of her 50-year sentence.
According to Abigail Cortez, Ramírez’s attorney, she plans on appealing after receiving the official sentencing document from the hearing. Because women could not access medical care during the pandemic, a “peak” number of women unintentionally lost their pregnancies.
“At that time, the pandemic was the priority, not women’s health care,” Cortez stated. The judge, she added, failed to consider expert opinions presented by the defense, including what she called evidence of domestic violence and extreme poverty, as well as Ramírez’s psychiatric evaluations.
According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, El Salvador violated the rights of a woman who died in prison in 2010 while serving a 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide following a stillbirth. As a result, the court declared that El Salvador must pay reparations to her family and construct policies that protect women suffering from obstetric emergencies.
Even if a woman gets raped or is at risk of death, the country requires her to keep the baby. If women are convicted of abortion, they can serve up to eight years in prison. After stillbirths or miscarriages, many women have been charged with homicide and sentenced to decades in prison.
This sentencing illustrates the complex context under which women suspected of having abortions live in El Salvador, while undermining the country’s perspective on reproductive rights. El Salvador is one of five Latin American countries with a total abortion ban.