A 21-year-old woman from El Salvador, who was jailed on suspicions of inducing an abortion, was acquitted after a retrial on Monday, CNN reported on Tuesday. The woman had been convicted in 2017 after having a stillborn child. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador.
The woman, who said a gangster had raped her, had said she did not know she was pregnant when she gave birth in 2016. She was 18 at the time.
The judge found the woman innocent after concluding that there was not enough evidence to convict her, the 21-year-old’s lawyers said on Monday.
In April 2016, the woman was found in a pool of blood in her home. After she was taken to the hospital, doctors reported her to the local authorities as they saw signs of a delivery but no baby.
The woman said she realised she was pregnant only shortly before she gave birth to a stillborn baby. “Had I known I was pregnant, I would have awaited the baby with pride and joy,” CNN quoted her as saying.
Officials had found a newborn in a septic tank around her home. Prosecutors had claimed that the woman had attempted to abort and then left the child for dead. After serving 33 months of a 30-year sentence, the woman was released in February.
“Thank God, justice was done,” Reuters quoted her as saying after the verdict. “There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too.”
Abortions are illegal in El Salvador, including in cases where the pregnancy may pose a threat to the mother’s health or in rape cases. As many as 147 Salvadoran women have been imprisoned for up to 40 years in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion – an El Salvadoran rights group. The group said following Monday’s judgement that it will ask for review in at least 16 cases.
Women prosecuted under the country’s harsh abortion laws also include cases of stillbirths after home deliveries and induced abortions due to medical emergencies, according to Reuters. In many cases including this one, the charges the women face are those of of aggravated homicide, where they can face a minimum sentence of 30 years, BBC reported. The 21-year-old’s case had garnered international attention.
“This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador,” AP quoted Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, as saying. “It reaffirms that no woman should be wrongly accused of homicide for the simple fact of suffering an obstetric emergency.”