A young rape survivor suspected of having an abortion and charged with homicide after having a stillborn child has been acquitted by a judge.
Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez, now 21, suffered at the hands of El Salvador’s archaic abortion laws – it’s one of three countries in Central America with a total ban on abortion, where women convicted face sentences of two to eight years.
Hernandez had served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide – prosecutors had asked for 40 – when her conviction was overturned in February due to a lack of evidence, and a retrial was subsequently ordered.
Following the verdict, as reported by The Guardian, a visibly emotional Hernandez said:
Thank God, justice was done. I also thank you who have been present here.
It’s a landmark case for El Salvador, a Central American country known for pursuing incessant murder cases against women who have had miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies.
While the UK’s Editors’ Code of Practice has clear guidelines against naming victims of sexual assault, Hernandez’s public speaking about the case has drawn global attention.
Hernandez, 18 at the time, was raped by a gang member. However, she had no idea she was pregnant and assumed the symptoms of pregnancy, like stomach cramps, were a byproduct of her period.
As reported by BBC News, Hernandez said:
If I’d known I was pregnant I would have awaited [the birth] with pride and joy.
When the foetus reached 32 weeks, Hernandez suffered intense abdominal pain and delivered it into a toilet – it was then found lifeless in the septic tank, sparking her arrest.
She said she didn’t realise she was giving birth, but ‘felt something come loose inside her’. Hernandez’s mother found her passed out next to the toilet, and took her to the hospital.
Prosecutors argued Hernandez didn’t protect her foetus – although she and her mother said they weren’t aware she had given birth at the time and forensic experts were unable to determine whether it died in the uterus or in the septic tank.
As reported by The Guardian, Hernandez’s defence lawyer, Bertha Maria Deleon, said:
We believe the judge has been very fair in his ruling. He has said that there was no way to prove a crime and for that reason he absolved her.
Deleon later tweeted: ‘I am about to explode with happiness.’ Regretfully, Hernandez’s experience is a common one in El Salvador.
Women, frequently poor, young and victims of rape, who turn up at hospitals having suffered a miscarriage are sometimes charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 to 40 years.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, called the ruling a ‘resounding victory’ and implored the country to revoke their ‘draconian anti-abortion laws’.
As reported by The Guardian, Guevara-Rosas said:
This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador. It reaffirms that no woman should be wrongly accused of homicide for the simple fact of suffering an obstetric emergency.
Rights organisations in El Salvador say there are at least 17 other women in jail under the country’s strict abortion laws. It’s estimated that 25,000 women fall pregnant after being raped in the country each year, as well as thousands of clandestine abortions being carried out.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30). Alternatively you can contact Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111.
After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.