A court in El Salvador, as part of a retrial, acquitted the 21-year-old Evelyn Hernandez, who was threatened with 40 years in prison for miscarriage under the murder clause.
This is a big victory in the fight for women’s rights in El Salvador, human rights activists say.
“Thank God justice has triumphed. In the future I am going to continue my studies and strive to achieve my goals. I am happy,” she said near the courthouse after the process.
Evelyn Hernandez El Salvador: insisted in court on her innocence. According to her, when she was 18 years old, she was raped by a member of one of the local criminal gangs, but she did not know that she became pregnant, and at the moment when she had a miscarriage, she lost consciousness. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence her to 40 years in prison. Women’s rights activists both in El Salvador and abroad demanded that the girl be acquitted.
Evelyn Hernández cleared over baby’s death
El Salvador has one of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the world. Abortions in the country are illegal under any circumstances. Those found guilty of an abortion face a prison sentence of two to eight years in El Salvador.
In a number of cases, as in the Hernandez case, the prosecution is reclassified to a more serious article on aggravated murder, the minimum term for which is 30 years in prison.
The Hernandez case was the first such case in El Salvador, in which a full trial was scheduled.
Previously, women accused of abortion were commuted to punishment after their long terms of imprisonment were recognized as “disproportionate and immoral,” but their sentences were never quashed.
Human rights activists now hope that the Hernandez case will set a precedent that will allow other women who go to jail because of El Salvador’s strict laws against abortion to fight to overturn their sentences.
“We can and will continue to fight because there are still accused women who urgently need justice,” said lawyer Hernandez Berta, Maria Deleon.
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The human rights organization Amnesty International called the verdict a “loud victory” in the fight for women’s rights in El Salvador and called on the country’s authorities to “put an end to the shameful and discriminatory” practice of criminalizing abortion. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also previously urged El Salvador to reform abortion legislation.
How did it all start?
On April 6, 2016, Evelina Hernandez, who at that time was at home in the countryside of El Salvador, experienced severe pain in her stomach, after which she began to bleed. She went to the toilet, located in the annex, and lost consciousness there.
Her mother took Hernandez to the hospital, where doctors concluded that the girl gave birth. The child’s body was found in the toilet, after which Hernandez was arrested.
Evelyn Hernandez, rape victim
Hernandez has repeatedly pleaded not guilty. According to her, when she was 18 years old, she was raped by a member of one of the local criminal gangs, but she did not know that she became pregnant.
Hernandez said that she confused the symptoms of pregnancy with pain in the abdomen and that she periodically had bleeding, which she mistook for menstruation.
“If I knew that I was pregnant, I would have been waiting for the birth of the child with pride and joy,” she said.
At first, Hernandez was charged with abortion, then later the prosecution was re-qualified for aggravated murder. Prosecutors claimed that the girl specifically hid her pregnancy.
n July 2017, the court concluded that Hernandez knew about her pregnancy and found her guilty. The girl was sentenced to 30 years in prison, from which she served almost three years (33 months).
The girl’s defense appealed the decision of the court. Lawyers insisted that the examination showed that the child died due to natural causes, and not as a result of an abortion.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court of El Salvador overturned Hernandez’s conviction for lack of evidence of her guilt and ordered a re-trial with the new judge. The girl was released from prison in anticipation of a review of the case, which began in July.
During the retrial, prosecutors asked the court to order the girl an even harsher sentence than the first time — 40 years in prison.
Abortion in Salvador
According to human rights activists, at least 17 more women convicted of abortion are currently in prison in El Salvador. The re-trial of the Hernandez case was the first such case under the new President of Salvador Nayeb Bukele, who took office in June.
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Activists hope the new president takes a softer stance on abortion. Bukele stated that he was against abortion, but expressed sympathy for women who are being prosecuted for abortion after miscarriage.
“If a poor woman has a miscarriage, she is immediately suspected of having an abortion. This is where the problem of social inequality arises,” he said during his election campaign.