On Monday, a criminal trial against Imelda Cortez, a 20-year-old woman charged with attempted murder after she gave birth to her abuser’s baby in El Salvador, began. Cortez has been in custody since April 2017 and may face up to 20 years in jail because doctors believe she attempted an abortion. The court ruling is expected within a week.
Cortez was repeatedly abused by her 70-year-old stepfather since she was 12 years old and became pregnant at the age of 18. Cortez was rushed to the hospital after her mother found her bleeding heavily and in severe pain. At the hospital, doctors called the police because they suspected she attempted a self-induced abortion, despite Cortez being unaware that she was pregnant and delivering a healthy baby.
While at the hospital, Cortez’s abusive stepfather threatened to kill her, her siblings and her mother if she reported the abuse. A patient, who overheard the stepfather’s threats, informed a nurse, who reported the abuse to the police. When hearing about the abuse, prosecutors accused Cortez of making up the abuse in order to justify her crime. However, a DNA test later confirmed the baby’s father was Cortez’s stepfather. The stepfather has not been charged.
According to one of Cortez’s defense lawyers, María Deleón, Cortez has been stripped of her rights as a victim. A week after Cortez gave birth she was charged with attempted murder, was denied bail, and was sent straight to prison. Since her detainment, Cortez has been denied psychological attention, support, and the right to hold her baby.
Cortez’s case has fueled abortion and human rights activists. Deleón said Cortez’s case is “the most extreme, scandalous injustice against a woman I’ve ever seen.” Further, Paula Avila-Guillen, the director of Latin America Initiatives at the New York based Women’s Equality Center stated that Cortez’s case is a clear illustration of how El Salvador’s laws criminalize victims. Further, Avila-Guillen said “the fierce determination of prosecutors to go after poor women regardless of the circumstances and evidence is sending a strong message: if you’re poor, it’s not safe to seek healthcare.”
In El Salvador, abortion has been illegal under any circumstances for 21 years and punishable to up to 50 years of imprisonment. Last August, a parliamentary bill was drafted legalizing abortion in cases of rape and human trafficking. However, the bill is currently stuck in committee, with no hope of an upcoming vote.
According to human rights and abortion activists, 24 women are currently serving 15-30 years in jail for suspected abortions.
Newswire Sources: The Guardian 11/12/18; 4/3/18