A nineteen year-old woman from El Salvador been sentenced to thirty years in prison for the homicide of her unborn child. Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz gave birth to a stillborn child when she was eighteen years old; the pregnancy came as a result of repeated rape by a gang-member over the course of a few months. Hernandez states that she had not realised she was pregnant when she was taken into hospital with severe back and abdominal pain, and then gave birth into her toilet at home where the dead foetus was found.
Hernandez’s sentencing was due to a result of obsolete legislation that forbids abortion under any circumstances – including rape, incest and a risk to the mother’s life. The judge concluded that Hernandez should serve thirty years in jail due to not seeking prenatal care. She argues that upon birth, Hernandez threw the unwanted baby into the toilet with the intention to kill him.
The case has sparked many human rights activists to demand changes to the country’s outdated and life-threatening laws on abortion. Activists are suggesting that the judge sentenced Hernandez without sufficient evidence to back up the prosecutors claims, as medical experts were unable to determine whether the foetus died pre or post birth.
Indeed, this sort of situation is not unheard of in El Salvador. Being one of the five countries that criminalises abortion in all circumstances, many other women have been charged with long prison sentences after suffering miscarriages. The Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion estimates that more than 200 women have been reported to the police between 2000-2011; 23 of these were convicted of murder, and another 26 were convicted of abortion. The strict legislation stems from El Salvador being a heavily Catholic nation – with around half of the population identifying as Catholic. However, as there is no concrete evidence that Hernandez murdered her baby or even attempted an abortion, the ruling reflects a growing humanitarian crisis that threatens the rights of women in El Salvador. Pregnant women are being wrongly persecuted based on religious beliefs without sufficient evidence to justify their imprisonment.
Hernandez’s attorneys are hoping to appeal the judge’s ruling. In a bid to relax the laws on abortion, a parliamentary bill was introduced in El Salvador earlier this year. The proposed legislation aimed to change make abortion legal in certain circumstances, however the bill remains stagnant and there is no certainty whether it will be sent to parliament.
Amnesty International have released a statement regarding the ruling:
“El Salvador’s anti-abortion law is causing nothing but pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families. It goes against human rights and it has no place in the country or anywhere.”