El Salvador: Woman Released for Retrial After Being Sentenced for Stillbirth
Evelyn Hernández, a twenty-year-old woman who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for giving birth to a stillborn baby, was recently released after the Supreme Court of El Salvador annulled the charge.
Hernández had already served thirty-three months in prison on charges of aggravated homicide.
In April 2016, Hernández lost her baby after giving birth in a toilet in her home in the countryside of El Salvador. Hernández lost consciousness due to large amounts of blood loss, and the baby did not survive. It was highly debated during the trial whether the fetus died in the womb or if the baby was stillborn.
Hernández claims she never knew she was pregnant after being raped repeatedly.
The prosecution accused Hernández of not seeking antenatal care and of murdering her baby.
El Salvador has strict laws regarding abortion, with a zero tolerance policy for all abortions in all circumstances.
Hernández’s legal team appealed the case to the Criminal Court of the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador. In September 2018, the Supreme Court annulled the convictions after new evidence was introduced that showed the baby died from meconium aspiration. Meconium aspiration is a process, outside the control of the pregnant mother, in which the fetus or newborn aspirates its feces produced before birth.
The Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court, and it was decided that a new trial must be held with a different judge. A hearing is scheduled for the first week of April.
Hernández was released from the Ilopango Women’s Prison and was reunited with her parents and brother in San Salvador. Various activists showed their support by chanting, “Evelyn, you are not alone!”
The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion (Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto) has stated that Hernández was unjustly accused and convicted, and that 22 other women are still incarcerated in El Salvador on similar charges.
The Citizen Group spoke about the reality of El Salvador in which women “living in marginalized conditions and lacking access to adequate health care and sexual education, are criminalized by state institutions when they arrive seeking emergency medical care at public hospitals after experiencing obstetric emergencies.”
Marian Moisa, communications coordinator of the Citizen Group, stated, “In 2019 we shouldn’t be fighting for the presumption of innocence when a woman loses a pregnancy. We shouldn’t have to be proving that motherhood is not related to crime. We should have full human rights as Salvadoran women.”