Justice for Evelyn

El Salvador frees woman wrongly accused under repressive abortion laws


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UPDATE: El Salvador’s attorney general has announced that he is appealing Evelyn’s acquittal. This is the state’s third attempt to prosecute Evelyn for having an obstetric emergency. We will continue to work with our Salvadorian partners to ensure Evelyn’s freedom and to secure the release of the remaining women behind bars.

Three years ago, Evelyn Hernandez was convicted of aggravated murder after suffering an obstetric emergency, a crime many women are charged with due to the country’s total criminalization of abortion. Monday, she was acquitted after serving nearly three years in prison.  

When she was 18, Evelyn was raped and became pregnant; however, she remained unaware of that fact until she went into labor and experienced a stillbirth. After passing out due to blood loss, she woke up in the emergency room and was immediately detained by the police.  

Prosecutors charged the teenager with aggravated homicide, claiming she never experienced sexual violence and that she intentionally ended her pregnancy. Evelyn was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison, and upon retrial the prosecution sought to extend her sentence by an additional decade. 40 years for a stillbirth.   

Due to the country’s restrictive laws, this is unfortunately not rare. More than a dozen women are currently serving long prison sentences on similar charges in El Salvador. Yesterday’s decision represents an important human rights victory, but more work is needed to overturn the criminalization of abortion and prevent the further persecution of women and girls throughout the country.  

The Center and its Salvadorian partner, Agrupación Ciudadana para la despenalización del aborto, are challenging the country’s abortion laws in the courts and in the streets. Together they represent nine women in a case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and will soon be presenting Manuela v. El Salvador before the Inter-American Human Rights Court. Manuela’s case—a Salvadoran woman who was unjustly sentenced to 30 years in prison after suffering an obstetric emergency, and who later died from Hodgkin’s lymphoma because she was not give medical treatment-- will be the first reproductive rights case that the Court will hear. Additionally, they organized the #Las17andMore advocacy campaign to draw national and international attention to this human rights atrocity.  

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