For 21-year-old Evelyn Hernández, today’s trial could have ended with a decades-long sentence. In 2016, the Salvadoran woman went into labor but gave birth to a stillborn. In the Central American country – where having an abortion carries a heavy penalty – even women who miscarry or have a stillborn run the risk of imprisonment. On Monday, at a retrial, Hernández was found not guilty, bringing hope to other women who have been wrongfully accused of having had abortions.
Back in 2016, Evelyn was bleeding and felt extreme stomach pains. When she went to the bathroom, she fainted and was taken to a hospital. She didn’t remember what happened, but doctors learned that she had given birth. The child’s body was found in the septic tank, and the then-18-year-old was arrested, according to BBC.
Evelyn has maintained that she didn’t know she was pregnant. Despite being a product of rape, Evelyn said that she would have welcomed the child. Initially, she was accused of having an abortion, but the charges were eventually changed to aggravated homicide. At this point, prosecutors accused her of hiding her pregnancy and avoiding prenatal care.
About a year later, in July 2017, when she had already served 33 months in prison, a judge found her guilty, stating that she knew she was pregnant.
Her legal team, however, appealed the decision, saying that the court didn’t take forensic evidence into account. Tests showed that the baby died of meconium aspiration – which is when a baby inhales their own stool, which blocks the airways. This year, El Salvador’s supreme court ordered a retrial because of a lack of evidence. For the retrial, prosecutors tried to get her 40 years, a prison sentence that was 10 years longer than the original.
The final hearing took place on Thursday, but the final verdict was postponed twice. On Monday, she was finally acquitted.
While this is an important and historic victory in the country that has harshly sentenced other women in similar situations, it’s only the beginning. “We celebrate today, but we keep fighting tomorrow,” Paula Ávila-Guillén, director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, told BuzzFeed News.