Tuesday, December 18, 2018
El Salvador court frees Imelda Cortez, jailed under anti-abortion laws
BBC News (Dec. 18, 2018): El Salvador court frees woman jailed under anti-abortion laws, by BBC News:
A woman who was jailed for attempted murder under El Salvador's strict anti-abortion laws has been freed.
Imelda Cortez, 20, says she became pregnant by her stepfather who sexually abused her for many years. Doctors suspected she had tried to perform an abortion after she gave birth to a baby girl in a latrine in April 2017. The child survived, but Imelda Cortez was arrested and spent more than 18 months in jail as she awaited trial. Prosecutors argued that her failure to tell anyone about the pregnancy and seek medical help after giving birth constituted attempted murder, which carries a possible 20-year sentence in El Salvador.
On Monday, however, a court ruled that Cortez, who was unaware that she was pregnant, had not sought an abortion. Cortez's lawyers said that to avoid a harsher sentence, she had admitted to neglecting her newborn baby, which carries a one-year jail term. The court ultimately decided to dismiss that offense and told Cortez she was free to go home.
"This sentence... represents hope for women who are still in prison and are also being tried for aggravated homicide," defense attorney Ana Martinez told reporters following the verdict.
El Salvador is one of several countries in the world where abortion is completely banned and carries heavy penalties. While the country is not alone in Latin America in having a total ban on abortions, it is particularly strict in the way it enforces the ban: doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too could face long sentences in jail.
Human rights groups are calling this enforcement of the ban a criminalization of miscarriages and medical emergencies, with more than 100 people convicted in El Salvador since 2000.