A woman in El Salvador has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after she suffered an obstetric emergency and lost her unborn baby.

The woman identified only as Esme was arrested after she sought medical care at a public hospital three years ago. She has since served almost two years under pre-trial detention.

El Salvador has one of the most stringent abortion laws in the world. President Nayib Bukele had even called abortions a "great genocide." It is one of the five Latin American countries that has a complete ban on abortion, including in cases of rape.

"This sentence is a blow to our efforts to release women unjustly incarcerated and a violation of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has said obstetric emergencies must be treated as a health problem," Morena Herrera, president of the group, told VICE World News.

The draconian laws put the most vulnerable women at risk since in many cases, these women cannot afford prenatal care. The activists involved in Esme's case say she too comes from a rural area and is "very poor."

Hospital staff in the country often report women who miscarry to the police. The stringent laws have been responsible for putting many innocent women behind bars.

The government has criminally prosecuted around 181 women who suffered obstetric emergencies in the last 20 years, according to The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.

"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," Paula Avila-Guillen, international human rights lawyer and executive director of the Women's Equality Center, told The Guardian.

The ruling comes at a time when the United States is on the verge of overturning 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which had legalised abortion in the country. If the Supreme Court overturns the ruling it would allow all US states to pass their own abortion laws. However, the court is not expected to issue a ruling until early July.

Herrera believes that "everyone in the US should have their eyes on El Salvador right now to understand exactly what a future without Roe entails."

Abortion rights actvists
Abortion rights actvists gather outside the US Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on May 3, 2022 Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN AFP News/Frederic J. BROWN