A tragedy and finally acquittal
The case of Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz, is a tragedy. As a teenager, she was condemned to prison in 2017 for thirty years for aggravated homicide after losing her baby when she was 8 months pregnant. The pregnancy had been the result of repeated rapes of the teenager. After the baby was stillborn Evelyn was arrested by authorities for a suspected abortion, a crime in El Salvador prosecuted as murder.
Her lawyers successfully got her 2017 conviction overturned on appeal for lack of evidence, but the prosecutors in El Salvador decided to try her again. Yesterday, Evelyn's second trial ended in an acquittal.
The case has been highlighted by women's rights groups campaigning against the unjust treatment of women in Evelyn's situation. Evelyn's case is emblematic of too many cases where a miscarriage results in criminal prosecution for homicide.
Advocates celebrated yesterday's acquittal as described in the New York Times:
In a statement, Morena Herrera, of the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, said that the acquittal was “a sign of hope for all women who remain in jail for crimes they did not commit for health problems that should never have been brought to court.”
“No woman should go through the ordeal that Evelyn did,” she added.
Women’s groups are likely to seize on the acquittal as they push to overturn other cases.What I wrote in 2017 following her first conviction is still true:
Advocates have identified 25 women who were sentenced to as much as 40 years for homicide or attempted homicide after suffering obstetric emergencies. As many as two dozen more were charged and jailed while they awaited trial before the charges were eventually dropped or they were acquitted.
Perhaps the best analysis came from Virginia Lemus, writing in a blog at El Faro. Lemus points out that Hernandez case is one like so many others. A teenager, living in poverty, poorly educated, oppressed, loses a baby. A male-dominated healthcare and judicial system prosecutes her for aggravated homicide. There is little actual proof, but the courts don't care.
As Lemus says, the middle and upper classes never leave babies dead in their bathrooms. They have medical insurance, and their obstetricians don't treat them as idiots. When they miscarry and lose a baby, it is treated as a tragedy and a time for grief, not a crime.
This is a case about poverty. It is a case about gender bias. It is a case about weak judicial processes. It is a case about lack of sexual and reproductive education. It is about a lack of attention to women's health. It is a case like too many before.