Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, a 19-year-old rape survivor in El Salvador, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Tuesday after having a stillborn baby in 2016.
Hernandez Cruz was repeatedly raped by a gang member over several months, The Guardian reports. She was unaware that she was pregnant when she started experiencing severe back and stomach pain in her third trimester and later gave birth in a toilet at her high school.
Experts couldn't tell whether the fetus died before being born or soon after its birth, according to the Guardian. Hernandez Cruz has been convicted for failing to provide proper care for the fetus, and for its murder.
Soon after the birth, Hernandez Cruz's mother took her to the hospital to treat what she still thought was severe abdominal cramps. She claims that she only realised she had given birth after going to the hospital. Police arrested Hernandez Cruz when they found the dead fetus in the toilet.
Despite there being no evidence that proves Hernandez Cruz intentionally harmed the fetus, the judge in her case agreed with the prosecutor's argument that she didn't seek care for her pregnancy because she didn't want the baby and that she threw the fetus into the toilet, the Guardian reports. The judge also suggested that Hernandez Cruz's mother may also be responsible for the fetus's death.
Her case isn't unique in the country. El Salvador has a total abortion ban and activists claim that 17 other women have been wrongly convicted of aggravated homicide after having miscarriages or stillbirths over the last 18 years.
An activist group called Las17, which is dedicated to finding justice for these women, tweeted daily updates about Hernandez Cruz's trial. They have also been speaking out about the case using the hashtag #justiciaparaevelyn (justice for Evelyn).
“The judgment sentencing Evelyn to 30 years in prison shows how in El Salvador justice is applied without direct proof, without sufficient evidence that clarifies what a woman has done,” Morena Herrera, Executive Director of the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, said in a statement to Refinery29.
Hernandez Cruz's lawyers plan to appeal the decision.
A bill has been introduced in El Salvador that would keep women like Hernandez Cruz, who had no control over her baby's death, out of prison. The legislation aims to decriminalise abortion in certain cases that include: a pregnancy that puts the life and health of the woman at risk, a medical diagnosis where the fetus cannot survive, a pregnancy resulting from sexual violence, or a human trafficking pregnancy.
Meanwhile, cases like Hernandez Cruz's have already happened in the U.S., and current debates about abortion rights could land women (and people of all genders) seeking abortions in the same position as women in El Salvador. In 2015 a 33-year-old woman living in Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after she had a miscarriage and threw the fetus into a dumpster.
Bill after bill has been introduced in states across the U.S. attempting to restrict access to abortion, and the Trump Administration repeatedly threatens to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, arguably the most well-known clinic that provides abortions in the U.S.
While it may seem like a stretch to say that America could also have a total ban on abortion someday soon, some argue that it's not that far off.
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