This Monday, a court in El Salvador made history by acquitting 21 year old rape victim Evelyn Hernandez who suffered from a miscariage and was subsequently jailed, due to lack of evidence against her. Hernández was sentenced to 30 years in prison on a count of aggravated homicide in a country where miscarriages are still considered a crime, and when she was absolved she had already served 33 months of her sentence.
After being raped by a member of a local gang, Hernández fainted in her bathroom and gave birth on the toilet in her home, without any prior knowledge she was pregnant, and where her baby later died of natural causes. Upon arriving at the hospital, the doctors discovered she had given birth and called the police immediately, who detained her according to the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.
This is the first time that a new trial has been ordered in a case of this nature in El Salvador and the results could have important implications for the other (at least) 17 women who are currently in prison for similar reasons. Paula Avila Guille, director for Latin American Initiatives for the Women’s Equality Centre declared that the justice system in El Salvador is “starting to recognise that stillbirths aren’t crimes”, in what could be a huge step for women’s rights in the Central American country.
That’s why we present everything you need to know about the abortion laws in El Salvador and the current situation for women in the country.
Abortion laws in El Salvador and the region
Latin America is the most restrictive region in the world in terms of women’s reproductive rights, and within the region, Central America has the most oppressive and restrictive laws regarding abortion.
In El Salvador, abortion wasn’t always illegal, but a change in law in 1998 made it one of the strictest countries in the world. Now, abortion is illegal in all cases, and even miscarriages are considered as abortions.
Those accused of aborting can receive a jail sentence of between 2 and 8 years, however, what often happens is that the women accused are often tried on charges of aggravated homicide which is a minimum sentence of 30 years
Those accused of aborting can receive a jail sentence of between 2 and 8 years, however, what often happens is that the women accused are often tried on charges of aggravated homicide which is a minimum sentence of 30 years, as was the case of Hernández.
Although new president Bukele has declared himself pro-life in several public forums, he has also declared that he understands many women who’ve had miscarriages or stillbirths have been mistreated by the law.
He also stated that he supports abortion in the case that a woman’s life is at risk, which could represent some progress in terms of women’s rights, however he is yet to make a statement about Hernández’s case.
In other Central American countries such as Nicaragua and Honduras, the situation is similar and abortion is illegal in all cases, and these laws particularly affect disadvantaged women due to the fact that wealthy women can be attended to in private clinics where they are less likely to be reported to the police by the doctors. In fact, there are only 4 countries in the region where abortions can be legally carried out (Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and French Guyana), and elsewhere there are many restrictions.
The pro-abortion movement in Latin America and its impact on Central America
The green bandana of the pro-abortion feminist political movement in Argentina is now a recognised symbol of popular resistence against the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America. The movement began in Argentina in 2017, where around a million women took to the streets to demand free, safe and legal abortion for all.
The culture of activism that exists in some countries of the region has always been weaker in Central America where repression of protests is common and the values tend to be more conservative
A bill that would have legalised abortion was presented to congress and although it was rejected for the 7th time, the mobilisation had already grown into a movement and had spread to other countries.
In Chile and Mexico, the movement has consolidated itself with force and they’ve already created their own versions of the green bandana. But in Central America, the movement hasn’t gained force, and the culture of activism that exists in some countries of the region has always been weaker in Central America where repression of protests is common and the values tend to be more conservative.
Additionally, the middle class that drove the movement in the region is less consolidated in countries like El Salvador where the gap between the rich and the poor is larger and the middle class is much smaller.
However, we have seen many improvements in El Salvador since the pro-abortion movement began in 2017, such as the release of Imelda Cortez who was also jailed for miscarrying last year, and the release of three women in March of 2018 that had spent almost a decade in prison for abortion related homicide charges.
These changes represent a great achievement for women’s rights and could represent a new legal precedent in El Salvador, but there is still plenty of work to be done throughout the entire region to guarantee the reproductive rights of Latin American women.