Joy as El Salvador court absolves woman accused of killing stillborn child

Evelyn Hernandez

Evelyn Hernandez

Prosecutors asked for a 40-year sentence during the retrial of 21-year-old Hernandez, who was the latest woman to go to trial for an abortion-related crime in El Salvador, a country that enforces its total abortion ban with a harshness unseen in almost every other country.

"I've always said that I'm innocent", Hernandez told reporters outside the court on Thursday when the retrial resumed.

"My future is to continue studying and to move forward with my goals".

At a university forum during the campaign, Bukele said he favoured legal abortion in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, a position that represented a significant shift for the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and evangelical country's abortion politics.

Activists belonging to Women's NGOs demonstrate in support of Evelyn Hernandez. Prosecutors had asked for a 40-year sentence.

Amnesty International welcomed the verdict as 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", the rights group said.

Evelyn Hernandez hugs Teodora Vazquez, who had her sentenced commuted after 10 years in jail over an abortion. She spent almost three years behind bars before she was released.

She said her son was stillborn but a court in the city of Cojutepeque convicted her of murder after prosecutors said she was culpable for not having sought prenatal care.

Ms Hernández's foetus was at 32 weeks in 2016 when she felt intense abdominal pains and delivered it into an outdoor toilet.

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Hernandez became pregnant as a result of a rape that she did not report out of fear because her family had been threatened.

"We believe the judge has been very fair in his ruling", defence lawyer Bertha María Deleón said.

Some 147 Salvadoran women were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a local rights group.

Dozens of women in El Salvador have been imprisoned for abortion-related crimes since the country made abortion illegal in all circumstances in 1998.

Hernandez's case was the first to go to trial under the administration of recently elected Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June 2019.

In March, three women serving 30-year sentences for aggravated homicide after losing their babies by miscarriage were released from prison.

More than 20 women remain imprisoned for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador.

"There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too", said Hernandez.

Women prosecuted under El Salvador's hard-line abortion laws include those who have suffered stillbirths after home deliveries as well as abortions induced because of medical emergencies.

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