Image: Marvin Recinos, AFP/Getty Images.

Last week, a teen girl in El Salvador was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she gave birth to a stillborn baby last year. The Guardian reported that the then-18-year-old girl had been repeatedly raped by a gang member. Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz was convicted on the grounds that she failed to seek medical treatment after the birth. She was charged with aggravated homicide. Amnesty International says that Hernandez didn’t report the rapes out of fear. The teen said she didn’t know she was pregnant, and staff at the hospital reported the girl to the authorities.

Abortion has been illegal in all circumstances in El Salvador for more than 20 years. According to the Guardian, legislators voted to strip women of their reproductive rights without any political debate. The reform was passed after lobbying efforts from powerful anti-choice groups with links to the Catholic Church. There are no exceptions for pregnancies as a result of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk. The country is one of five Latin America to outlaw abortion. The other countries include Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Human rights groups have universally assailed the ruling as draconian and oppressive. They are asking for the release of all women and girls imprisoned for having an abortion or pregnancy complications. Amnesty International has been calling for the immediate repeal of the law.

“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,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Earlier this year, there were hopes that the ban would be made less restrictive. A bill was raised to allow abortion in the case of rape, human trafficking, or to protect the life of the mother. The bill is currently stalled in the legislative assembly.

Cruz’s lawyer, Dennis Munoz, called the verdict unjust and lawful. The 19-year-old and her lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.

This story is just one of many. Girls and women in El Salvador who experience pregnancy complications or abortions face oppressive and unreasonable consequences. The current legal reality in El Salvador, combined with stigmas surrounding abortion, forces girls and women to resort to unsafe, secret abortions. Women who experience pregnancy complications have been charged with “aggravated murder.” Sentences for these women range up to 40 years of imprisonment.

As Hillary Clinton said in Beijing in 1995, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. Hernandez’s story shines a light on the struggle for reproductive rights in El Salvador. Reproductive rights and the rights to control our own bodies are vital to ensuring autonomy and gender equality.

This story is horrific and makes me grateful for reproductive rights in my own country. It makes me more resolved to fight to maintain reproductive rights in the United States and around the world.

-Sage Daugherty
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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