Evelyn was 17 years old and pregnant. I expected a baby from rape. One day in 2016, in the last weeks of pregnancy, the young woman felt unwell and went to the septic tank of her home. It was there, he says, where he lost his baby. When he arrived at the hospital fainted, and without the child in his womb, the doctors launched the so-called abortion care and investigation protocol. And the nightmare began.
«When I woke up in the hospital, a woman attending me told me that she had had an abortion. I was admitted seven days and I always spent them handcuffed on the stretcher, guarded by police, after the medical staff denounced me to the Prosecutor's Office. On the seventh day, they took me to a judicial hearing and from there to jail ».
Evelyn Hernández is 21 years old today and has just woken up from that nightmare. Only two weeks ago he got rid of seeing his life go to jail. The Prosecutor's Office of El Salvador accused her of having done nothing to prevent the death of her baby. That's why Evelyn spent 33 months behind bars. In 2017, she was sentenced in a first trial to 30 years in prison for the crime of aggravated homicide. His defense appealed, which meant his release and the repetition of the trial, which has just concluded with his acquittal, despite the fact that the Prosecutor's Office had even raised his jail request to 40 years. But the new judge considered that there was no evidence to demonstrate a willingness to end the life of his baby.
"Some people may have been glad that I was released, but others maybe not because they always wanted to see me inside the prison, thinking that I killed my baby," Evelyn emphasizes. Now fight stigma . But she also wants to "start a new life": study Law to defend women who go through the same ordeal in the future as she does. Because there, in jail, he discovered what is happening in El Salvador: «I thought that only I was there after having had an abortion, but then I learned that there were more women in the same situation, and that gave me strength to keep going ».
One of the first prisoners Evelyn met in Ilopango prison - the women's prison in El Salvador - was Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who was serving a 30-year prison sentence for the crime of aggravated homicide . In July 2007, Teodora suffered a miscarriage of her second child when she was 24 years old and lost consciousness minutes after calling emergencies in the dining room of a school where she worked . After waking up in a hospital bed, she was surrounded by police officers who handcuffed her. Days later, he entered prison, where he remained ten years and seven months until on February 15, 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice commuted his sentence and ordered his release, although without acknowledging his innocence.
Vásquez currently coordinates the Las 17 collective, which was launched in 2014 to request the pardon of women imprisoned for abortion, whose sentences range from 12 to 40 years. After merging into a hug with Evelyn Hernández minutes after she was acquitted, Del Carmen assures Crónica that her experience in jail was hard. "It marked my life forever, although I promised to continue fighting for my other companions who are still in prison," he says. His complaint: that women convicted of abortion in El Salvador suffer from "lousy discrimination" because of a "totally macho, religious and patriarchal justice that has to change . " "The laws of El Salvador are not doing their job as it should be and they are condemning women for prejudice and without having any proof."
-And the men?
-They are not doing anything, except discriminating against us and wanting to empower us, but we already said women here.
Free abortion is murder, it is read on a wall in the capital of El Salvador, a country where since 1998 the termination of pregnancy is prohibited in all cases , including rape or if there is a risk to the life or health of the mother. The jail sentences for abortion range between two and eight years, which rise to between 30 and 50 years when typified as aggravated homicide in case it is an out-of-hospital birth occurred when the pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks and even if it is accidental . This law has taken dozens of women to prison, of which a total of 16 still remain behind bars , some sentenced to 35 years in prison. In addition, in recent weeks, two others have been reported after their babies died in childbirth.
Morena Herrera presides over the so-called Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, which has a team of lawyers who have managed to release 41 incarcerated women in recent years after losing their baby in an outpatient delivery. One of them came to ask for asylum in Sweden after the Prosecutor's Office appealed his release. Herrera became involved in this fight after reading a report in 2006 in The New York Times , which revealed that a woman was in a prison in El Salvador sentenced to 30 years accused of having strangled her baby minutes after she was born. It was Karina del Carmen Herrera Clímaco, who in 2009 became the first woman to be released after getting several human rights organizations to have the court review the sentence and recognize that the autopsy on the girl was incomplete .
When she had been deprived of freedom for seven years, Herrera managed to enter the prison to visit her as a cousin. There he discovered that she was not the only woman initially accused of abortion but had subsequently been convicted of aggravated homicide, with a much greater penalty and without strong evidence.
That is why nine years ago Morena Herrera decided to create her group, which began an investigation in the women's prison to find out how many of them were convicted after suffering an obstetric emergency: «It was not easy, because they were afraid, since there were aggressions within the jail against those who had aborted . We reviewed the records of the sentencing courts and found that there were 147 cases of women prosecuted that have been increasing because there are still complaints ».
Herrera explains that in all cases a pattern is met: «The criminalization of young women living in poverty and, generally, with a low educational level and living mostly in rural areas or some in urban areas with a lot of precariousness ». Only poor women are condemned, he says. « Those of middle and upper class abort in private hospitals where they are not reported ».
Herrera, who accompanied Evelyn Hernández in all court hearings, reveals that, in order to prevent these women from being denounced in hospitals, there are doctors who have begun to act . Under the umbrella of an association that they have called the Medical Union for Women's Health and Life, when a woman who has suffered an abortion arrives at her hospital, these doctors alert Herrera's organization to send there immediately lawyers and networks of defenders who can prevent patients from being detained and prosecuted. Something advances.
Cinthia Marcela Rodríguez has spent a decade of her life in jail, after in 2008 she began to have pain in her home located in the Lourdes canton of the municipality of Colon and her baby was born "with the umbilical cord in the neck . " "A neighbor took me to the hospital, where they gave me a curettage, and when I woke up I was already handcuffed and a policeman told me that I was being held for abortion," he says. Rodriguez spent ten years and nine months in the Ilopango prison until the pressure of the Association for the Decriminalization of Abortion managed to have his sentence commuted and released in March 2019.
When she was in prison, where she was from 19 to 30 years old, she remembers that the day after entering other inmates they beat her when she learned of the crime for which they accused her . «You suffer a lot, because we slept 52 women in the same room where there were only two bathrooms. I had to sleep with another woman in the same bed, while the food was ugly and they didn't give us soap or sanitary napkins, so I had to work for other dams washing them clothes so they could pay me or give me these products, ”he says.
Cinthia Rodríguez criticizes that the Justice of El Salvador "does not do a good job in verifying cases." «He only lets himself be guided by what the Prosecutor says and does not listen to us». In addition, he censures that only "humble, low-income women are convicted of abortion, since it has never been heard that someone who is economically well prosecuted." That is why he wants the legislation to be changed in El Salvador. "There are many women who are unjustly in jail and it is not fair to be persecuted without being to blame for the crime of which he accuses us," he says. "In prison, youth is lost, because there are dreams."
After being released, Cinthia managed to work as a secretary with a doctor, despite the stigma that these women suffer when they have a criminal record.
Meanwhile, the legal team of the citizen group for the decriminalization of abortion continues to struggle to release the 16 women still in prison. "Every day that passes we do not release one of them is another day without being able to rebuild his life," says lawyer Angelica Rivas, who has already asked the Ministry of Justice and Security to commute their sentences, which would result in the release, although the sentence would remain firm. «We will not rest until we see them free. In El Salvador, no woman should be prosecuted for an obstetric emergency and prosecutors should understand that nobody here wanted to kill anyone .
Mariana López, who was part of the group of the 17 women for whom the pardon was requested, already enjoys her freedom after being imprisoned 17 years of the 25 to which she was convicted in 2000 for the crime of aggravated homicide. She entered prison with 22 years after being accused of suffocating her baby in an outpatient delivery. He attends Chronicle minutes before receiving his bakery classes, since he has set up a business selling bread.
Mariana reports that, after giving birth, she woke up in the hospital "surrounded by police officers and detained" after being denounced by the medical staff of having aborted. “ It was a horrible process to realize that I didn't have my daughter. The cops told me, when I was on the stretcher, that I was an animal . I just wanted the earth to swallow me, ”he recalls. In 2017, at 39, he regained his freedom after his sentence was commuted, although he regrets that there are people who know his case and continue to "discriminate" because they continue to say that he killed his daughter. "It's very difficult to be able to tell people not to judge me , because they don't know how things went," he says.
And the rest of the women who remain in prison? At the question, Mariana breaks into tears: "I will always fight alongside them and the organizations so that everyone can regain their freedom one day."
The last attempt to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador was made in 2018 by the former president of the Legislative Assembly and former guerrilla Lorena Peña, who proposed that it be legal when the mother's life is in danger, in case of rape, when the fetus is not possibilities of living outside the uterus or if the pregnancy is due to sexual violence or child trafficking. Failure.
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