World / Social Issues

El Salvador court absolves rape victim convicted of killing her stillborn child

AP, Reuters

A court in El Salvador has acquitted at retrial a young rape victim who was suspected of having an abortion and charged with homicide.

The case of Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez has attracted international attention to the country’s strict abortion laws and prosecutors’ aggressive pursuit of legal cases against women who have miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies.

Hernandez’s fetus was at 32 weeks when she felt intense abdominal pains and delivered it into a primitive toilet. She has said she didn’t know she was pregnant.

After the verdict was announced Monday, she said “justice was done.” The Associated Press usually does not name victims of alleged sexual assault, but Hernandez has spoken publicly about her case.

She served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence before her conviction was overturned.

Any intentional termination of a pregnancy in El Salvador can be prosecuted as a crime, including stillbirths due to home delivery or abortions induced because of medical emergencies, with some women receiving up to 40 years in prison.

“We believe the judge was very just in the ruling. The judge said there was no way to prove a crime was committed and that is why (Hernandez) was acquitted,” said Bertha DeLeon, the lawyer for Hernandez.

Some 147 Salvadoran women were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a local rights group.

“There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too,” said Hernandez.

In February, the Supreme Court ordered Hernandez released and retried, saying that the original judge’s decision was based on prejudice and insufficient evidence.