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Salvadoran woman faces new trial in abortion case

July 16, 2019

Rape victim Evelyn Hernandez was jailed on charges of murder after suffering a miscarriage on a toilet. Now she's facing a retrial. The case is being closely watched in El Salvador, which has a total ban on abortion.

Evelyn Hernández
Image: AFP/Getty Images/M. Recinos

A young Salvadoran woman who says she gave birth to a stillborn child at home returned to court on Monday to face allegations that she aborted the baby, which is illegal in El Salvador.

Evelyn Hernandez has already served 33 months of a 30-year aggravated murder sentence, however, the Supreme Court in February annulled the ruling and ordered a retrial.

Having an abortion can carry hefty jail sentences in El Salvador, where women who suffer pregnancy complications and miscarriages are often accused of killing their unborn child.

Read moreUN blasts heavy prison sentence for 'poor' woman in anti-abortion case

The case so far

  • Hernandez says she gave birth to a stillborn in an outhouse toilet in April 2016, when she was 18 years old.
  • Prosecutors claim the baby's death was the result of an abortion.
  • Forensic examiners could not determine whether the fetus died in the womb or in the toilet's septic tank.
  • Hernandez, who comes from a poor rural community, says she was raped and did not know she was pregnant.
  • She was jailed in 2017 for aggravated murder, but the case was overturned in February this year.

'I am innocent'

Speaking to reporters outside the court on Monday, Hernandez said: "I want justice to be done. I know everything is going to be OK. My faith lies with God and my lawyers."

She added that she hopes for "good things, unlike what happened before, and I am innocent."

"What Evelyn is living is the nightmare of many women in El Salvador," said her lawyer, Elizabeth Deras.

The trial has been adjourned until July 26.

Read moreOpinion: Strict US anti-abortion laws harm women

Tough abortion laws

Catholic-majority El Salvador has some of the toughest abortion laws in the world. Abortions are banned, even in cases of rape and incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

Miscarriages of justice

Recent opinion polls show that although many Salvadorans support allowing medical interventions when a fetus is not viable or the mother's life is at risk, many believe rape victims should still carry out their pregnancies.

The termination of a pregnancy in the Central American country carries a jail term of up to eight years, but women can also face 30-60 years in prison if charged with aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion or miscarriage.

According to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, more than 20 women are currently behind bars in El Salvador after suffering miscarriages, pregnancy complications or stillbirths.

Read moreGerman doctors convicted over abortion law

Women's rights campaigners are hoping the new government of President Nayib Bukele will implement abortion reforms. Bukele, who took office in June, has previously said that he's "completely against" criminalizing women who have miscarriages. However, he has not spoken publicly about the Hernandez case.

"This case will be the first case to be tried since the new president came to power," said Paula Avila-Guillen, director for Latin America initiatives at the US-based Women's Equality Center.

Every year in El Salvador, about 25,000 women get pregnant as a result of a rape. It's estimated that thousands of these women resort to clandestine abortions.

nm/ng (EFE, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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