Woman Jailed After Bathroom Birth Is Freed 18 Months Later

Dismissal of charges against El Salvador's Imelda Cortez hailed as a landmark moment
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2018 12:27 PM CST
Woman Jailed After Bathroom Birth Is Freed 18 Months Later
Stock photo.   (Getty/Darren Klimek)

El Salvador's Imelda Cortez is out of prison for the first time in more than a year and a half, and her freedom is being hailed as a potential landmark moment for women's rights in her country, reports AFP. Cortez's plight had drawn international attention: The 20-year-old was charged with attempted murder after giving birth to a premature infant in a bathroom. Cortez, however, says she hadn't even known she was pregnant, only that she felt something pass and then went to the hospital in pain. Authorities soon found the baby in the latrine, still alive, and prosecutors say Cortez's failure to summon help for the birth amounted to attempted murder. The other big part of the case: Cortez says she must have become pregnant by her stepfather, who she says had been sexually abusing her for several years. The stepfather is now under arrest and facing trial, reports the BBC.

El Salvador has among the world's toughest laws on abortion, outlawing it in cases of rape and even when the woman's life is in danger. Those laws played a role in the charges she faced, but on Monday, prosecutors reduced them from attempted murder to abandonment. Then a court cleared Cortez of any crime at all, reports the Guardian. The judge ruled that she could not be blamed for what happened, given the "emotional and psychological damage inflicted by the sexual violence she suffered since childhood," in the words of the Guardian. Says a member of her legal team: "It took the whole world to make the judges and prosecutors see what we've been saying for years: An obstetric emergency is not a crime." (Read more El Salvador stories.)

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