In 2016, Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors claimed that the then-teenager had induced an abortion, which is illegal in El Salvador under any circumstances.
Hernandez, now 21, has said her pregnancy was the result of a rape and maintains that she did not know she was pregnant when she began experiencing pain and went to the bathroom. There, she says she passed out after experiencing sharp pain while delivering a stillborn baby, according to Reuters.
She was taken from her home in El Carmen, a town outside of San Salvador, to the hospital, where doctors notified local authorities.
Her baby was later found in a septic tank; according to a medical report, it was 32 weeks old—slightly less than full term. Prosecutors argued that it had been born alive and accused Hernandez of leaving it for dead.
On the first day of her retrial, the now 21-year-old said that she was not guilty of the murder charges.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant,” Hernandez told reporters on Monday at a court in Delgado, a municipality of San Salvador. “Had I known I was pregnant, I would have awaited the baby with pride and joy.”
Hernandez has already served part of her initial 30-year sentence. The country’s Supreme Court annulled that ruling after her legal team presented an appeal, ordered a new trial and temporarily released her in February this year.
Later on Monday, the court suspended the retrial process, saying a new trial date would be announced on July 26.
Several human rights and abortion rights groups had showed up at the court, protesting against El Salvador’s strict anti-abortion laws.
“Evelyn is innocent. It’s time for the judicial system to stop criminalizing women who suffer a miscarriage outside of the hospital,” Morena Herrera, one of the leaders of the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, told CNN.
A 1998 law made abortion illegal in El Salvador under any circumstance, including when the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother or cases of rape. Depending on the charge, Salvadoran women who are suspected of having an abortion or an induced miscarriage could face charges including aggravated homicide with sentences ranging from two years in prison to up to 50 years for the most serious charges, according to Amnesty International.