Evelyn Hernández Cruz, the young El Salvadoran rape survivor charged with aggravated homicide after her miscarriage, was cleared of all charges Monday.
An El Salvadoran judge said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Hernández in the first place, according to CNN.
Hernández, 21, had been sentenced to 30 years in prison after she gave birth to a stillborn baby in 2016, in what doctors suspected was a botched abortion attempt. She was taken to a local emergency room in Cojutepeque only after she was discovered on the floor of her bathroom, covered in blood.
She was found guilty in 2017 after doctors accused her of purposely avoiding emergency care to harm her baby. Hernández repeatedly said throughout her trial that she never knew she was pregnant, but had been raped repeatedly by a gang member. Prosecutors said she should’ve known and sought prenatal care anyway.
Abortion is illlegal in all circumstances in El Salvador — even when it could save the life of the mother — and advocates say that makes women fear seeking medical care for their miscarriages, since they could be suspected of intentional neglect.
Women in the predominantly Catholic country can be sentenced up to eight years for an abortion but up to 40 years for homicide, according to the New York Times. The law often ensnares poor, rural women who don’t have access to sufficient health care. Advocates told the Times that at least 25 women have received up to 40 years of jail time for obstetric emergencies, while dozens more were jailed before charges were dropped.
Hernández spent 33 months in jail before her attorneys successfully appealed and requested a retrial in February. Her attorneys argued that forensic tests showed the baby died from inhaling its own stool in the uterus — not from an abortion.
Her conviction was annulled and she was released from jail while awaiting the retrial, according to the BBC. Prosecutors used the retrial as an opportunity to request an even harsher sentence of 40 years, attracting national attention to the country’s draconian laws.
"It was tough to be locked up, especially when I was innocent," Hernández told reporters Monday, according to CNN. "There are others who are still locked up and I hope they are freed soon."
Earlier this year, in March, El Salvador’s Supreme Court commuted the sentences of three of those women; they had all already served 10 years, according to the Guardian. And in December, a judge freed Imelda Cortez, another rape survivor accused of attempted abortion.Cortez’ baby was born healthy, but she spent 17 months in detention anyway.
In the past, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on El Salvador to reform its strict anti-abortion laws.
Cover: Evelyn Hernandez, left, who was acquitted on charges of aggravated homicide in her retrial related to the loss of a pregnancy in 2016, stands with Teodora Vasquez, who was convicted and imprisoned for 10 years in a similar case before her sentence was eventually commuted, as they celebrate Hernandez's freedom outside court in Ciudad Delgado on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)