His crime is to have delivered a stillborn baby in El Salvador. Evelyn Hernandez, a 21-year-old woman, first sentenced to 30 years in prison, was at her second trial for up to 50 years for negligent aggravated homicide. After spending 33 months behind bars, the Salvadoran, who has always claimed her innocence, was finally acquitted on Monday, August 19th. A judgment immediately acclaimed by a hundred women gathered in front of the courthouse of Ciudad Delgado, northeast of the capital San Salvador. "Attention, attention, the feminist struggle advances in Latin America," she chanted, triumphant.
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The battle seems ambitious. El Salvador, a small Christian country with 6 million inhabitants, has one of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the world. Since April 1997, a penal reform prohibits all forms of abortion, including in case of rape or when the health of the mother and the fetus are in danger. Three exceptions that were tolerated to abort. Then in February 1999, this total prohibition is enshrined in the Constitution, which states to recognize as "human person every human being since the moment of its conception".
An "aggravated homicide"
If the sentence for abortion is two to eight years in prison, the judges will in fact consider any loss of the baby as an "aggravated homicide", punishable by between 30 and 50 years' imprisonment. Thus, even when a young woman comes to the emergency room, just after a miscarriage, the medical staff will in most cases prefer to call the police, fearing to be accused of complicity.
Some women will spend ten years behind bars, such as Teodora Vasquez - sentenced to 30 years imprisonment - released in February 2018, after eleven years imprisonment or Cinthia Rodriguez, Alba Lorena Rodriguez and Maria Orellana, three Salvadoran released last March, after spending ten years in prison, following miscarriages.
The profile of these women is often the same: most are single, poor, rural, and condemned on the basis of weak or non-existent evidence. Many, victims of sexual violence, did not even know they were pregnant. Women "considered as second-class citizens", or even "third zone" for the "poorest and most vulnerable among them, like Evelyn Hernandez", explains to the Guardian Paula Avila Guillén, director of Latin American initiatives in Women's Equality Center in New York. "These women have no weight in the justice system, whatever the evidence."
Behind this arsenal anti-abortion emerges a social reality obvious: to be woman and poor is a double punishment. Because when the better-off can go abroad to legally and safely abort, those without resources use the D system, even if it means putting their lives in danger. To interrupt their pregnancy, some ingest rat poison or pesticides. Others introduce knitting needles, pieces of wood, or other sharp objects into the cervix. At the same time, a black market for misoprostol, a medicine against ulcers and used for abortion, has also developed. The tablet, which is worth 30 cents, is selling a hundred times more under the mantle in El Salvador, says Le Monde.
"The state participates in the macho culture"
As a result, in 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 11% of women and girls who sought illegal abortions in El Salvador have died. For Marylène Lapalus, a doctoral student in sociology, a specialist in feminicide violence contacted by France 24, "penalizing abortion is part of the feminicide violence since prohibiting it puts women's lives at risk. The state thus participates in the macho culture ".
Despite repressive legislation, clandestine abortions have increased in the country. According to the Ministry of Health quoted by Amnesty International, 19,290 abortions were performed in El Salvador between 2005 and 2008, more than a quarter of which involved girls under 18 years of age. An official figure that would most likely be below reality, says the NGO.
"An obvious conservative context"
A part of public opinion seems to have evolved on the subject in recent years. According to a 2013 local survey quoted by Amnesty International, 74% of respondents in El Salvador supported abortion when the woman's life was threatened. Despite a notable trend, the weight of tradition and the Church is still strongly anchored in Salvadoran society. "There is an obvious conservative context," says the academic.
"There is a cleavage between this religious tradition and the public emotion provoked by the situation of these condemned women, because these last releases of prisoners - before the end of their sentences - could not have been achieved without the work of the associations, but also without the public opinion more and more shocked by these imprisonments ".