Salvadoran Teenager Wrongfully Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Experiencing Pregnancy Complications

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(PRESS RELEASE) This week a nineteen-year old Salvadoran rape survivor who became pregnant and suffered a stillbirth was sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges of aggravated homicide. 

Evelyn Beatriz, who has been in Ilopango Prison since April 2016, was sentenced Wednesday by Judge Nury Velazquez in Cojutepeque. In late October 2016, she was accused of aggravated homicide even though the autopsy of the stillbirth was inconclusive. Her lawyers plan to appeal this sentencing by the end of this month.

For nearly two decades, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances—even when necessary to save a woman’s life—imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. The ban has resulted in the imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages, who are then charged for having an abortion and wrongfully convicted of homicide.

Said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center:

“Evelyn Beatriz needed compassionate and immediate medical care and instead lost her pregnancy and her freedom.   

“How many more women have to go to jail before the Salvadoran government realizes abortion law reform is crucial?

“The Salvadoran Justice System needs to stop criminalizing these women and instead support and empower them with complete access to health care, education and justice. We will keep fighting until all these women are set free.”

Evelyn Beatriz became pregnant after she was raped, without any knowledge of the pregnancy, and was too scared to tell anyone about the sexual violence she experienced. On April 6, 2016, she felt severe stomach pains and passed out in a bathroom while experiencing a stillbirth. Her mother asked for help taking Evelyn Beatriz to the hospital, but upon arriving there for urgent medical care, Evelyn Beatriz was detained and handcuffed to the hospital bed under police watch.

At her initial hearing on April 11, 2016, a judge ordered Evelyn Beatriz to provisional detention and she was moved to the Ilopango Prison. This week, she was accused of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 30 years without any proof or scientific evidence—the judgment given only on the theory that she did not seek prenatal care. The autopsy on the stillbirth done by Institute of Legal Medicine was inconclusive. This sentencing will be appealed by Evelyn Beatriz’s defense lawyer.

In October 2016, a group of congresswomen introduced a proposed amendment to the penal code that if enacted will allow women to access safe and legal abortion services when pregnancy poses a risk to their health or life and in cases of rape and fatal fetal impairments. The amendment received wide support from the Alliance for the Health and Life of Women (La Alianza por la Salud y la Vida de las Mujeres)—a  coalition of more than 30 human rights organizations and international human rights activists including la Agrupación Ciudadana. The bill is still waiting for a vote within the Salvadoran Commission of Legislation and Constitutional Issues before it goes to the full Congress for further discussion and a final vote.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked to expose the consequences that El Salvador’s blanket abortion ban has on the lives of women. The Center together with the Agrupación Ciudadana filed a case in December 2015 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights– a principal human rights body for the Americas—on behalf of nine women who had serious pregnancy complications and are now in prison due to the severe enforcement of El Salvador’s absolute abortion ban.

The IACHR announced in April 2017 that it will hear the case of Manuela, a Salvadoran woman wrongfully imprisoned after having an obstetric emergency who later died from untreated Hodgkins lymphoma in prison. In its report, the IACHR states that it admitted Manuela’s case after determining that the government of El Salvador failed to provide access to justice for Manuela and her family in the country, citing failure to provide Manuela with adequate defense counsel.

In December 2014, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights launched the “Las17” online campaign calling for the release of “Guadalupe” and 16 other Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies, were accused of having illegal abortions and were later convicted of homicide. “Mirna,” one of “Las 17,” was released in December 2014 after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. In February 2015, Guadalupe was successfully released and pardoned, after serving seven years in prison. In May 2016, Maria Teresa was released after a judge ruled that there were violations of due process in her case. And in February 2016 Sonia Tábora obtained her permanent freedom. The remaining women are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences for crimes they never committed.

The Center and the Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial, and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.