Salvadoran woman restarting life after abortion case retrial

Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez, a 21-year-old Salvadoran woman who was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after suffering a miscarriage in 2016, smiles as she answers questions from journalists two days after her acquittal on retrial, at the offices of Colectivo Feminista in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Hernandez, who spent nearly three years in jail, said Wednesday “Now that I’m free, I feel like I’ve come back to life.” (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A young woman who was acquitted of homicide after authorities accused her of having an abortion said Wednesday she feels she has gotten her life back after being caught up in a case that drew international attention to El Salvador’s strict reproductive laws.

Evelyn Beatriz Hernández said she hopes to return to school, study computing and English and become an advocate for women imprisoned in similar cases. The now-21-year-old woman was 18 and about to finish high school when she was jailed.

“I feel like I have returned to life,” she said, smiling, in a news conference in the capital, San Salvador. “It is like beginning a new life.”

Hernández also called on new President Nayib Bukele to intervene in favor of women who are prosecuted and imprisoned after suffering miscarriages.

“I would like for him to truly see how the cases of the women are, how we are discriminated against,” Hernández said, “for him to think so that abortion could be decriminalized.”

Hernández says she didn’t even know she was pregnant when she had a miscarriage, delivering the 8-month fetus in an outhouse. It was later found lifeless in the septic tank. Prosecutors didn’t believe her story and charged her with murder.

Hernández served 33 months of a 30-year sentence before her conviction was thrown out in February. In an unprecedented retrial for such a case, she was acquitted on Monday despite prosecutors’ seeking the maximum of 40 years for aggravated homicide.

“I felt happy, content, because I could finally breathe an air of freedom,” she said of her return to her humble home in El Carmen, east of San Salvador.

The case highlighted the country’s record of aggressively prosecuting women who suffer miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies and accusing them of murder.

Between 2014 and 2018, according to the nongovernmental organization Citizens’ Group, 146 women were prosecuted in such cases. Of those, 60 were convicted — 34 for aggravated homicide and 26 for abortion, which is penalized by two to eight years. Sixteen of the women remain behind bars.

Hernández criticized the Public Ministry for pursuing its case against her so tenaciously.

“I would like to tell them to truly think things through, because thank God the truth came to light,” she said. “The judge said I was not guilty of what they were accusing me of.”

Bukele, who took office in June, has said he believes abortion is acceptable only if a woman’s life is in danger but “totally” opposes criminalization of miscarriage.

“If a poor woman has a miscarriage, immediately she is suspected having had an abortion,” the president said in 2018. “We cannot place the presumption of guilt on a woman when what she needs is immediate help.”

Hernández described her nearly three years behind bars at a women’s prison as an “ordeal” and said the other inmates harassed her at first because they had heard she supposedly killed her baby, but later supported her after hearing her side of the story.

She said neighbors in El Carmen had also treated her badly before.

“But now that the truth emerged that I am innocent, now they speak well of me,” Hernández said. “I am happy.”

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