A judge in a Salvadoran court sentenced 19-year-old Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz to three decades in prison for aggravated homicide after Hernandez gave birth to a stillborn child in April of 2016.
The judge justified the ruling on the basis that Hernandez, a woman that according to The Guardian is “from a small rural community in Cuscatlán” in El Salvador, did not seek proper antenatal care, causing her to have a stillbirth in her third trimester.
The international community has become enraged at this news, as Hernandez likely did not have access to antenatal care in the first place as she was from a rural area of El Salvador, which follows the trend also seen in the United States that women in rural areas have less access to maternal and general healthcare services.
Fucking hell. Woman, survivor of rape, had a stillbirth and is facing prison time because of it in El Salvador. Rly terrible news https://t.co/NTgoe0OCBS
— anti anti anti (@tunneldiggin) July 7, 2017
— Katie?Halper (@kthalps) July 7, 2017
There are no words strong enough to express the horror of what this young woman has been through https://t.co/1FvuziThEk
— Natalie Bennett (@natalieben) July 6, 2017
In fact, Hernandez was actually unaware that she was pregnant until she became severely ill from back and stomach pains and incidentally gave birth to the stillborn into a toilet. The judge said that Hernandez purposefully placed the baby into the toilet, so it was an intentional murder.
This is not the first case of jailing a woman for a stillbirth in El Salvador; as reported by the Los Angeles Times in 2015, the country has actually been jailing women for as many as 50 years for miscarriages and stillbirths throughout the past 20 years since their law outlawing abortion passed. Malta, the Dominican Republic, Chile and Nicaragua join El Salvador in hosting laws that take legal action against any and all forms of abortion—regardless if rape, medical conditions and other circumstances are at play, for which other countries like the United States have made exceptions.
Not only was Hernandez unaware of her pregnancy, but she was also the victim of repeated rape by a gang member for multiple months. It is still not known whether Hernandez’s rapist is in custody let alone received a court sentence for his actions. However, the court judge has said that Hernandez’s mother deserves criminal charges as well due to her possible assistance to murder.
International human rights organizations have spoken out against the injustice of the ruling and El Salvador’s abortion laws.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas Director of Amnesty International, said, “El Salvador’s anti-abortion law is causing nothing but pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families. It goes against human rights and it has no place in the country or anywhere.”
Hernandez’s lawyers plan to appeal the guilty verdict. However, in the meantime, the international community can support Hernandez by signing petitions for an overturn of her conviction, writing to human rights interventionist groups and the Salvadoran government and continuing to be outspoken on the issue of criminalization of rape victims and the paradox of strict abortion laws in places with little to no reproductive healthcare access.