The following press release was shared on Monday evening by the Women’s Equality Center:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — In the wake of the landmark acquittal of Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz, a 21-year-old rape survivor falsely accused of aggravated homicide for experiencing a stillbirth, Evelyn and women’s rights activists across El Salvador are demanding justice and freedom for more than 17 women still imprisoned under the country’s total abortion ban. El Salvador is considered to have the most extreme abortion ban in the world and is one of the only countries known to prosecute and imprison women in cases of obstetric emergencies.
Evelyn faced the threat of a third trial after the Attorney General’s office appealed the decision of the court that declared her innocent, preventing her from reconstructing her life freely and fully. Evelyn’s imprisonment was recently declared arbitrary and contrary to international human rights by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.
President Bukele has publicly stated that no woman should be imprisoned for experiencing an obstetric emergency, and has also expressed that there should be exceptions on the criminalization of abortion when a woman’s life and health are at risk.
Evelyn Hernández said: “I was made the victim of a justice system that is anything but just. I know that there are countless other women who have experienced the same in a country where miscarriages are still considered a crime and reproductive rights are nonexistent. We must stand up and demand that the Salvadoran government release all the remaining women who have been wrongfully put behind bars like me. The fight does not end here.”
Paula Ávila-Guillén, Director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, said: “Evelyn’s case cast an international spotlight on the horrific reality of El Salvador’s abortion ban and drew an outpouring of support for a rape survivor whose only crimes were being poor and a woman in a country that criminalizes both. While Evelyn is finally free, more than 14 innocent women are currently in prison who should immediately be released; together, they have served a combined of over 50 years behind bars and are further proof that abortion bans always and inevitably target vulnerable women with no means of defense or recourse. Evelyn’s case, and the global response to El Salvador’s cruel mistreatment of women and girls like her, should be a clear wake-up call to President Bukele and the courts that liberating the women incarcerated under this cruel law is long overdue.”
Background on Evelyn:
Evelyn became pregnant at age 18 as a result of sexual violence in her community and delivered a stillborn child in April 2016. There is no evidence showing that Evelyn ever attempted to end the pregnancy or harm the fetus. Despite this, in July 2017, Evelyn was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide. After serving 33 months in prison, the decision was overturned by a judge on appeal in February 2019 for lack of evidence. Prosecutors decided to retry Evelyn on the same charges and Evelyn faced 40 years in prison before she was acquitted in August 2019.
Background on El Salvador’s Total Abortion Ban:
El Salvador has had a total abortion ban since 1998, including in cases where the woman’s life is at risk or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. El Salvador is the only country known to regularly prosecute and imprison women as a result of the abortion ban – even in cases where the women suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other obstetric emergencies. Today, more than 20 women are in prison under trumped up charges of manslaughter, homicide, or aggravated homicide after being accused of having an abortion. In total, at least 50 women have been imprisoned.
The Women’s Equality Center supports communications and campaigns on reproductive health, rights and justice. Currently, the organization engages on initiatives in Latin American countries that have total bans on abortion including El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, and other countries in the region where abortion access is extremely limited. WEC is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit.
Paula Ávila-Guillén is the Director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center (WEC). Paula has over ten years of experience designing and implementing advocacy and litigation strategies to address a variety of human rights issues in multiple geopolitical spaces at the local, national and international levels.