Salvadoran prosecutors take aim, again, at woman in abortion case

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The attorney general’s office of El Salvador announced on Friday it will appeal last month’s acquittal of a young woman accused of killing her stillborn son, marking what would be her third trial in the socially conservative Central American country.

Evelyn Hernandez poses for a picture after a news conference in San Salvador, El Salvador August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Evelyn Hernandez was exonerated in an August retrial after an earlier judgment found her guilty of homicide and sentenced her to 30 years in prison.

Hernandez, 21, said she was raped by a gang member and was unaware of her pregnancy until just before delivering a stillborn son in early 2016.

But prosecutors want another shot at returning Hernandez to prison, where she has already severed three years behind bars, due to what they describe in a statement as “overabundant” proof of her criminal responsibility.

“There’s no reason to consider her a victim of anything. On the contrary, the only victim is her son,” the statement said.

Hernandez was rushed to hospital after complications during the birth. Once there, medical staff accused her of attempting an illegal abortion and handed her over to authorities, her defense says.

El Salvador’s Supreme Court overturned the original conviction in February, ordering Hernandez released, and concluding that the judge’s decision was based on prejudice and insufficient evidence.

Women prosecuted under El Salvador’s hardline abortion laws, which ban the procedure in all circumstances, include those who have suffered stillbirths after home deliveries as well as abortions induced because of medical emergencies.

“It is shameful that they insist on criminally prosecuting a woman without evidence that she committed the crime,” Hernandez’s defense lawyer, Bertha Deleon, wrote in a post on Twitter after prosecutors announced their appeal in the case.

Following her exoneration last month, Hernandez used her newfound international platform to call for an end to the criminalization of women like her.

Hernandez did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a representative for the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a local rights group, said a statement would be issued later in the day.

The group has previously said it will seek new legal reviews for at least 16 similar cases in which woman have been jailed for abortion-related crimes.

El Salvador’s new 38-year-old president, Nayib Bukele, campaigned on a pledge to legalize abortion in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, but lawmakers have yet to take up any such reform.

Bukele has yet to make any comment on the case.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Alistair Bell