A young woman who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather is to go on trial in El Salvador accused of attempting to murder her baby, under the country’s strict abortion laws.
Imelda Cortez, 20, gave birth to her stepfather’s baby in a latrine in April last year, according to the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which has been supporting her case.
The baby girl survived and Cortez was placed into custody, said CEJIL.
Cortez is due to face charges Monday of attempted aggravated murder, and if convicted could face up to 20 years in prison, her lawyer, Alejandra Romero, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Cortez denies the charges.
El Salvador has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world — abortion is illegal under all circumstances, with no exceptions, even in the case of rape or where the woman’s life is at risk.
A petition calling for Cortez to be freed has received almost 50,000 signatures.
Cortez grew up in an impoverished family in rural Jiquilisco municipality, southern El Salvador. From the age of 12 she was sexually abused by her 70-year-old stepfather, said the petition to free her.
Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives for the Women’s Equality Center who has spoken with Cortez’s lawyer, told CNN that the young woman “didn’t understand that she had just given birth, so after she found herself bleeding she started screaming and was taken to the hospital.”
“Later they found the baby who was completely healthy,” said Avila-Guillen, adding that after Cortez was detained, the child was cared for by Cortez’s mother who was still living with the stepfather.
“What makes Imelda’s case even more outrageous is that she had been a victim of sexual violence by her stepfather since she was 12-years-old until she was 18, however she’s been treated as a perpetrator and not a victim,” said Avila-Guillen.
El Salvador’s strict abortion laws
In the small, socially conservative Central American country, women who have an abortion, or simply miscarry, can face up to 50 years in prison.
At least 129 women were prosecuted under El Salvador’s stringent anti-abortion laws between 2000 and 2011, according to the pressure group Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.
“There are numerous similar cases [to Cortez] in which the authorities do not provide adequate medical attention and rather treat them [the women] as criminals,” Morena Herrera, the group’s head, said in a statement.
“It is very serious and sad to see that nothing changes in one of the most restrictive countries in the world in matters of sexual and reproductive rights, while women die and fill prisons for no reason,” said Herrera.