Imelda Cortez, a 20-year-old woman from San Miguel, El Salvador, faces up to 20 years in prison on an attempted murder charge after being accused of attempting a home abortion. According to The Guardian, she was impregnated by her rapist, her 70-year-old stepfather, who Cortez says began abusing her when she was 12 years old. She has been held in custody since April 2017 after giving birth to her daughter, whom she has never been permitted to hold.
El Salvador instituted one of the most oppressive abortion bans in the world 21 years ago—as Victoria Bouloubasis wrote for Jezebel earlier this year, it is the only act where a woman is presumed guilty, “with very little chance of proving innocence once convicted.” The maximum sentence for abortion is 12 years, but the charge is often partnered with an additional charge of aggravated homicide. If convicted, women like Cortez can face up to 40 years in prison.
In the case of Cortez, like many poor, rural women hit hardest by El Salvador’s restrictive policy, she did not know she was pregnant. When Cortez was taken to the hospital for complications, an emergency room doctor suspected had attempted an abortion which her defense describes as “unsubstantiated charges of attempted aggravated murder of her baby.” Cortez and her attorney have adamantly denied that she attempted to abort the child.
But if El Salvador has been eager to prosecute Cortez (and the 20 other women currently in jail), then they have turned a blind eye to her abusive stepfather. The Guardian reports:
While Cortez was in hospital, her stepfather visited her, threatening to kill her, her siblings and her mother if she reported the abuse. Another patient overheard and told a nurse, who called the police.
At first, prosecutors accused Cortez of inventing the abuse to justify her crime, until a DNA test confirmed the baby’s paternity. Her stepfather is yet to be charged.
A criminal trial against Cortez was originally scheduled to begin Monday but has been delayed. Her attorney, Bertha María Deleón, suggested that the delay was little more than an effort to avoid growing scrutiny from international rights groups. “Imelda goes back to her jail cell and it will be over a month before she has another chance to gain her freedom. The injustice already committed against Imelda is made worse by the many, many delays in her case,” Deleón said in a statement.
Paula Avila Guillen, Director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, added:
“This is a shameful delay tactic used by the Attorney General’s office in order to avoid the international spotlight on its heinous treatment of poor women and girls. In the meantime, Imelda, a survivor of rape, continues to be treated as a perpetrator and held in prison away from her family. The prosecutor should know this: despite their delay tactics and thinly-veiled excuses, the international community will not turn our backs as El Salvador violates the human rights of a young, poor rape survivor.”
Read the full article here.