El Salvador woman cleared of killing son who was stillborn

Ms Evelyn Hernandez (in pink), who has already served three years of a 30-year sentence for intentionally inducing an abortion, was freed on Monday by a court in El Salvador.
Ms Evelyn Hernandez (in pink), who has already served three years of a 30-year sentence for intentionally inducing an abortion, was freed on Monday by a court in El Salvador.PHOTO: REUTERS

CIUDAD DELGADO (El Salvador) • A Salvadoran court has acquitted a woman accused of homicide after giving birth to a stillborn baby in a case that drew international attention to the socially conservative nation's strict abortion ban.

Ms Evelyn Hernandez, 21, was previously convicted of intentionally inducing an abortion and had already served three years of a 30-year prison sentence.

"Thank God, justice was done," a tearful Ms Hernandez said outside the courthouse on Monday. "There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too."

In February, the Supreme Court ordered Ms Hernandez released and retried, saying the original judge's decision was based on prejudice and insufficient evidence.

Ms Hernandez was raped by a gang member and said she was unaware of her pregnancy until just shortly before she gave birth to a stillborn son in April 2016.

"This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador," Ms Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas director, said about the verdict.

Some 147 Salvadoran women have been imprisoned for up to 40 years in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, a local group.

The group said it will seek fresh reviews for at least 16 similar cases.

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.

Ms Hernandez's case attracted global attention and came nearly three months after President Nayib Bukele took office, pledging a softer approach to abortion in a country that bans any intentional termination of a pregnancy.

At a university forum during the campaign, Mr 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.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that there are many more women whose liberty has been unjustly taken from them. We're moving forward, and we want to keep fighting for the freedom of the others, just like we were able to do for Evelyn," said Ms Hernandez's lawyer, Ms Bertha Deleon.

Amnesty International urged El Salvador "to end the shameful and discriminatory practice of criminalising women once and for all by immediately revoking the nation's draconian anti-abortion laws".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'El Salvador woman cleared of killing son who was stillborn'. Print Edition | Subscribe