By Nidhi Kinhal
In El Salvador, abortion is illegal in any and all circumstances. It was criminalised 20 years ago after a sloppy vote, without debate or consideration, due to pressure from powerful anti-choice groups affiliated to the Catholic Church. Hopes of relieving the ban for specific circumstances have not yielded fruit, and the results of this are horrifying.
Women who have suffered miscarriages, women who have survived rape, women who have unhealthy foetuses or facing health issues from pregnancy — none of them are given exception. Worse still, many of them are even sentenced to prison for upto 40 years, and treated cruelly for having given birth to a stillborn, having a miscarriage, or if the judges think that they have not taken proper care and so, are responsible for murdering the foetus.
Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, a 19-year-old from eastern El Salvador has most recently been sentenced to 30 years in prison, on the grounds that she failed to seek antenetal care. Her story is one of gross injustice. She had been raped multiple times by a gang member, during a forced sexual relationship, and hadn’t realised that she was pregnant, at 18. She says she knew only after the delivery. She gave birth after back and stomach pain problems in April 2016, into a toilet, where the police found the deceased foetus. Having been arrested, she spent a week handcuffed to the hospital bed, for anaemia and urinary tract infection treatment.
Medical experts couldn’t conclude whether the foetus died in utero or immediately after birth, but the female judge accepted claims that Evelyn killed the baby because she did not want him. They even accused her mother of having been involved. The judgement on Wednesday has been claimed unjust. “The judge’s verdict doesn’t reflect the evidence presented in court. It’s a decision based on morality, not the law or justice,” said lawyer Dennis Munoz.
These women are not even heard or provided recourse for trauma during the inhumane process. Their lives are altered forever, for no fault of their own. An anti-abortion law is in itself regressive, but the incessant violence and damage Evelyn and others have had to go through is unfathomable. We’re miles away from even securing decent treatment, and living conditions for women around the world, let alone equality.