Salvadoran Woman Accused of Attempted Abortion Found Innocent After 18 Months in Custody

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Imelda Cortez, a 20-year-old Salvadoran woman who was imprisoned for more than 18 months on the suspicion that she attempted a home abortion, has been released.

Cortez had been in jail since April 2017 on attempted murder charges because doctors felt she may have tried to perform an abortion after she was raped and impregnated by her 70-year-old stepfather, who had sexually abused her since she was 12. The baby was born healthy, but that didn’t stop authorities from holding Cortez in custody for a year and a half while she awaited trial.

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According to the BBC, prosecutors argued that Cortez’s “failure to tell anyone about the pregnancy and seek medical help after giving birth amounted to attempted murder, which carries a possible 20-year sentence.”

But Cortez hadn’t attempted an abortion—she hadn’t even known she was pregnant. The assumption that she’d attempted an abortion was made by doctors after she’d been rushed to the hospital after experiencing severe pain and hemorrhaging. The baby was found by police in an outdoor toilet, healthy and breathing. It was only then that Cortez realized she must have been impregnated after being raped.

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In a landmark ruling on Monday, the court declared Cortez innocent on the basis that “the court could not expect Imelda to have acted differently given the emotional and psychological damage inflicted by the sexual violence she suffered since childhood.”

El Salvador is one of just four countries in the world where abortion is illegal, irrespective of rape or whether a woman’s life is at risk. Advocates are celebrating Cortez’s release as a significant victory against such extreme forms of oppression.

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“We are extremely happy, and thankful for everyone’s support. It took the whole world to make the judges and prosecutors see what we’ve been saying for years: an obstetric emergency is not a crime,” Paula Avila-Guillen, the director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Centre, told The Guardian.

Meanwhile, Cortez’s stepfather visited her in the hospital and threatened to kill her, her siblings and her mother if she reported his abuse. He was eventually arrested, but has not been charged with a crime.

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