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El Salvador Woman Cleared of Murder Over Stillbirth

Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez, right, leaves the court accompanied by family during her second trial, in Ciudad Delgado on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador, July 15, 2019.

A rape victim from El Salvador who was charged with murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby was acquitted during a retrial Monday.

Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez, 21, had been convicted of intentionally inducing an abortion and had served three years of a 30-year prison sentence.

That conviction was overturned in February for lack of evidence, and a new trial was ordered. Prosecutors had asked for a 40-year sentence.

"Thank God, justice was done," a tearful Hernandez told a cheering crowd outside the courthouse. "There are many women who are still locked up, and I call for them to be freed soon, too."

El Salvador is one of three Central American nations with total bans on abortion. Women convicted of having abortions face prison sentences of two to eight years.

But women who turn up at public hospitals following a miscarriage are sometimes accused of having killed the fetus and charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a sentence of 30 to 40 years.

During the retrial, prosecutors had argued that Hernandez should have known she was pregnant and sought medical help when she went into labor.

But defense lawyers said Hernandez was not aware of her pregnancy. The fetus was at 32 weeks in 2016 when Hernandez felt intense abdominal pains and delivered it into an outdoor toilet.

Her mother found her unconscious and covered in blood, and took her to a hospital where doctors called the police after determining she had given birth.

The fetus was found in the family's septic tank.

'Victory' for women

"This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador. It reaffirms that no woman should be wrongly accused of homicide for the simple fact of suffering an obstetric emergency,'' said Erika Guevara-Rosas, director for the Americas at Amnesty International.

She called on El Salvador to cease "criminalizing women once and for all by immediately revoking the nation's draconian anti-abortion laws."

Hernandez's case was seen as a test for women's reproductive rights under new President Nayib Bukele, who has said he believes abortion is acceptable only when the mother's life is at risk but that he opposes criminalizing women who have miscarriages.