A court in El Salvador has recently sentenced a 19-year-old rape survivor to 30 years in prison after suffering a still birth due to pregnancy complications. The rape survivor, Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, was charged with aggravated homicide under the country’s anti-abortion law. As per local reports, Hernandez Cruz was convicted on grounds of failing to get prenatal care.
However, local rights groups noted that Hernandez Cruz was raped months before going into labor. The groups also said that she did not notify the police of the incidence due to fear. Hernandez Cruz allegedly did not know that she was pregnant when she experienced severe abdominal pain and fainted in her bathroom in April last year. Hospital staff purportedly reported her to the authorities upon discovering the body of the fetus in a toilet.
“The judgment sentencing Evelyn to 30 years in prison shows how in El Salvador justice is applied without direct proof, without sufficient evidence that clarifies what a woman has done. In this case, Evelyn did not kill her newborn child. She simply experienced an obstetric emergency and the state prosecutor has badly interpreted the facts and unfortunately the judge hasn’t listened to the witnesses that told her there was no direct proof. We’re going to appeal this decision. Luckily, we still have recourse within the judicial system that — as we’ve demonstrated in other moments — can be effective so that women unjustly sentenced like Evelyn can regain their freedom,” said Morena Herrera, executive director of the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion.
El Salvador’s anti-abortion law draws flak from various human rights groups
Hernandez Cruz’ sentence was not a first for the country. In fact, El Salvador-based Alliance for Women’s Health and Life documented at least 147 cases of women being charged under the country’s strict abortion law between 2000 and 2014. One of them was Maria Teresa Rivera, who was given a 40-year sentence for aggravated homicide in 2011. Like Hernandez Cruz, Rivera was not aware of her pregnancy when she suffered a stillbirth in her bathroom on the said year. Rivera was eventually released in 2016.
El Salvador is one of five countries that penalize abortion in all cases. The country’s anti-abortion law was implemented in 1998, and holds women accountable for murder and other related charges even when their pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. The law also penalizes women and girls who undergo abortion due to life-threatening conditions. Under the country’s anti-abortion law, women may be sentenced between eight and 40 years in prison. (Related: Abortion To Be Labeled “Child Abuse” In Alaska If Landmark Measure Passes)
A large number of human rights groups have denounced the law. According to Amnesty International‘s Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas, El Salvador’s “retrograde anti-abortion law” goes against human rights and has no place anywhere. Human Rights Watch expressed a similar sentiment, calling the law a risk to women’s life and health. A group of experts from the United Nations has also called on El Salvador to allow abortion under specific circumstances.
“The criminalization of the termination of pregnancy imposes an intolerable cost on the women, their families and the society. It restricts women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and information. [El Salvador’s abortion law is] contrary to international human rights standards and violates the country’s international obligations,” U.N. experts said.