A rape survivor in El Salvador — where abortion law and enforcement is among the strictest in the world — faces 20 years in jail for attempted murder after she allegedly attempted to end a pregnancy caused by her abusive, elderly stepfather.
The baby girl survived, and is now about 19 months old. But Imelda Cortez, 20, has been in custody since April 2017, when she was rushed to the hospital after giving birth to the baby in a latrine, according to the Guardian. An emergency room doctor suspected an attempted abortion, although Cortez said she had no idea she was pregnant and denied trying to end the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, regardless of the circumstances in which the baby was conceived.
Cortez was denied bail and sent to jail after a short stay in the hospital, during which her 70-year-old stepfather threatened to kill her, according to the Guardian. Prosecutors have accused Cortez of making up stories about her abuse to justify the alleged abortion, although DNA tests have confirmed the baby’s father.
“Imelda was repeatedly raped by her stepfather from the age of 11. DNA tests prove her child is the daughter of her stepfather,” her lawyer, Alejandra Romero, told the Huffington Post. “Yet Imelda is being treated as a criminal, not a victim of sexual violence.”
Cortez is set to appear in court Monday, according to Reuters, where judges will consider medical evidence presented by local doctors to determine whether she attempted to perform an abortion.
Already, women in the Central American nation face lengthy sentences for abortions, miscarriages or late-term obstetric emergencies. At least 25 women have been incarcerated since El Salvador made abortion illegal under all circumstances in 1998, according to the Washington Post.
The country is one of 26 nations that have totally banned abortions. Doctors and advocates have argued that such bans put women at risk, since it can be difficult to determine an intentional miscarriage and women with high-risk pregnancies might avoid treatment, according to the New York Times.
Cover: Salvadoran women march claiming for the decriminalization of abortion in San Salvador, on September 28, 2017. (Photo: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)