Intended for healthcare professionals


Rape survivor is sentenced to 30 years in jail under El Salvador’s extreme anti-abortion law

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 07 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3327
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. London

A 19 year old who became pregnant after being raped has been sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges of “aggravated homicide” after experiencing obstetric complications delivering the baby.

A court in El Salvador, which has some of the world’s strictest abortion laws, sentenced Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz on 5 July after prosecutors argued that in April the teenager had aborted the fetus and thrown its remains into a latrine at her home in Cojutepeque, 40 km east of the country’s capital, San Salvador.1

However, lawyers for the defence argued that the teenager had not known that she was pregnant and had confused labour pains with stomach ache and will appeal the ruling.1

Local organisations said that Cruz had been raped months earlier but that she had not reported the rape to the authorities out of fear.2

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, said, “El Salvador’s anti-abortion law is causing nothing but pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families. It goes against human rights, and it has no place in the country or anywhere.

“The total ban on abortion in El Salvador violates women’s rights to life, health, privacy, due process, and freedom from discrimination, violence, and torture and other ill treatment. All women and girls imprisoned for having had an abortion or experiencing obstetric emergencies should be immediately and unconditionally released, and the law must be repealed without delay.”

Abortion has been criminalised in all circumstances in El Salvador since 1998, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when the life or health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk. Many women and girls have lost their lives or been imprisoned because of the total ban on abortion.

The current legal framework means that women and girls have to resort to unsafe abortions and creates an atmosphere of suspicion around women who miscarry or experience other obstetric emergencies. As a result, women who experience complications during pregnancy have been prosecuted and convicted on charges of “aggravated murder,” with sentences of up to 40 years’ imprisonment.