Contact: Mariana Moisa, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clanci Rosa, clanccy1993@4grupacionciud4da4n4
The Salvadoran government sentenced a young woman to 50 years in prison for an obstetric emergency she experienced at the age of 19. Women’s organizations reject the judicial decision and will appeal the ruling. This is the first time in history that the maximum penalty has been applied since El Salvador criminalized abortion in all cases. The ruling was issued on June 29, 2022.
Lesli is a 23-year-old young woman from a small, rural community in the eastern part of the country. Her family subsists on the agricultural work performed by a single member of her large family. She is the third of seven siblings. She did not have adequate access to education and only studied up to seventh grade because she had to assume the tasks of the home and the care of her four younger siblings. Lesli’s family lives in a situation of extreme poverty without access to drinking water, electricity, or decent housing. In her life and that of her family, the State has always remained absent.
Lesli, at 19 years of age, with only a seventh-grade education, and without comprehensive sexuality education, was unaware of what was happening in her body. On June 17, 2020 at 9:30 PM she had an obstetric emergency in her house. She felt the need to defecate and did not know she was going into labor. She went to the latrine and at that moment she had a precipitous labor, expelling the child in gestation. “I felt something come out of me.” It was dark, and she couldn’t see what she expelled. She was scared and panicked. Everything was confusing since this was her first pregnancy. In search of help for her, her relatives and neighbors called the police, who took her to the hospital where she began her transition from hospital to prison.
The initial hearing was held on June 26, 2020. Lesli could not be present due to the deterioration of her health as a result of the obstetric emergency. She had received three blood transfusions. At that hearing, the judge ordered a formal investigation with provisional detention. The legal process against Lesli was full of irregularities and prejudices. The defense requested to annul the investigation stage because the judge did not allow the incorporation of evidence that demonstrated her innocence. For example, he did not include the expert opinion from Forensic Medicine with evidence of the social context in which she lived and the gender-based violence to which Lesli had been subjected, nor the psychological expertise that suggested conducting a psychiatric study.
With all these gaps and doubts, the judge sentenced Lesli on June 29, 2022 to 50 years in prison, basing his decision on mere gender bias, made clear in the words with which he justified the sentence. “Mothers are the source of protection for children in any circumstance of life and you were not that.” Leaving aside all the circumstances that impacted Lesli’s health emergency, this sentence contradicts the recent ruling of the Inter-American Court in the case Manuela vs. El Salvador, where the Salvadoran State was condemned and was mandated not to persecute and criminalize women who face obstetric emergencies.
Morena Herrera, President of the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador, condemned the ruling and stated that the organization will continue to fight until no woman who faces health emergencies during pregnancy is criminalized. “My heart aches because we have tried to close the page on the sad history of El Salvador that unjustly condemns impoverished women due to obstetric emergencies, but the Salvadoran state, once again, continues causing damage and pain to women who have not been afforded the rights or conditions to defend themselves. Despite these penalizing intentions, we are going to change this reality, because we are capable of imagining a fairer world.” The organizations that work for the freedom of women criminalized for obstetric emergencies have stated that they will appeal the resolution. They consider that the sentence is disproportionate and only reflects the cruelty of the Prosecutor’s Office toward impoverished women who face health emergencies during pregnancy.