Evelyn Beatriz Hernández, 21, served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence after she was found guilty of aggravated homicide after giving birth to a stillborn baby. The judge stated she had been careless during her pregnancy. Hernández had been raped and claimed she did not know she was pregnant when she went into labor in an outdoor bathroom and fainted. The 32-week old fetus was later found in the septic tank.
In February her conviction was overturned for lack of evidence and a new trial was ordered. Hernández was just 18 then, a victim of a gang-related rape, but in a country with strict penalties against abortion, the courts were strictly against her with prosecutors asking for a 40-year sentence for the retrial.
Her legal team had appealed the decision, saying that the court hadn’t taken into account forensic evidence after tests showed that the baby died of meconium aspiration – when a baby inhales their own stool blocking their airways. After the final verdict was postponed twice, she was acquitted on Monday. Hernández’s retrial was a first for such a case in El Salvador, the Associated Press reports.
“Thank God, justice was done,” Hernández said, according to Time. She was also visibly emotional as dozens of women waited at the courthouse, “I also thank you who have been present here.”
A teenage rape victim in El Salvador was sentenced to 30 years in prison for having a stillbirth. (The country bans all abortions.)
Evelyn Hernández has finally been cleared of her murder conviction after spending 3 years in prison. pic.twitter.com/VPwDMSnlUP
— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 19, 2019
El Salvador is one of six countries in Latin America with a total abortion ban. Women convicted of having abortions in the country face sentences of two to eight years. Women who turn up at public hospitals following a miscarriage are sometimes accused of having killed the fetus and charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a sentence of 30 to 40 years. Those most affected are often poor, young women and victims of rape, the Associated Press reports.
More than 150 girls and women were prosecuted in the past two decades, Human Rights Watch reports. At least 20 women are in prison on charges of manslaughter, homicide, or aggravated homicide for allegedly having abortions. Al Jazeera also reports that at least 13 women imprisoned for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador have been released since the beginning of 2018.
A quarter of young women in El Salvador between the ages of 15 and 19 are pregnant, the highest rate in Latin America. From the start of 2017 through October, there were nearly 2,000 sexual assaults and about 80 percent of victims 17 or younger, according to the Salvadoran Women’s Organization for Peace.
These statistics are startling but unfortunately not much is being done to rectify the state of women’s health and their reproductive rights. Hernández is just one in thousands of enduring gang violence and laws that punish the victims.