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El Salvador Court Acquits Woman Of Murdering Her Stillborn Baby

Evelyn Hernandez, 21, had been sentenced to 30 years in jail for intentionally inducing an abortion in El Salvador.

In April 2016, Hernandez, then 18, experienced severe stomach pains and went to the toilet, located in an outhouse.

Her mother found her unconscious and took her to hospital, where doctors discovered Hernandez had given birth.

The body of a newborn boy was found in the toilet septic tank.

Evelyn Hernandez (C) faces homicide charges for having allegedly had an abortion in Ciudad Delgado, El Salvador, 15 August 2019. Photo: Getty

Hernandez has always maintained she did not know she was pregnant after being raped by a gang member and had been unconscious during the birth.

Prosecutors charged her with the upgraded charge of aggravated murder and she was found guilty.

After serving three years of her 30-year sentence, the Supreme Court ordered Hernandez be released and retried with a new judge.

The Supreme Court found the original judge's decision to be based on prejudice and insufficient evidence.

Activists belonging to Women's NGOs demonstrate in support of Evelyn Hernandez. Photo: AAP

Before the retrial, the prosecution demanded Hernandez's sentence be increased to 40 years.

Hernandez's defence team argued forensic evidence proved the baby had died of meconium aspiration -- when a baby inhales its own stool, either in the womb, during birth, or immediately after.

It was argued Hernandez did not induce labour and the baby had died of natural causes.

Hernandez was acquitted of aggravated homicide and freed from jail on Monday.

“Thank God, justice was done,” Hernandez, in tears, told a cheering crowd outside the courthouse.

“There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too.”

Evelyn Hernandez cried after being acquitted. Photo: AAP

It's a landmark case in the socially conservative El Salavdor, closely followed by women in similar situations and human rights groups.

"This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, said about the verdict.

READ MORE: The Countries With The Most Brutal Abortion Laws

El Salvador has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. There are no legal avenues for abortion and pregnancies cannot be terminated for medical reasons, even if there is a risk to the mother.

Those found guilty of having or providing an abortion face two to eight years in jail, but prosecutions usually use a charge of aggravated homicide, which carries a minimum sentence of 30 years.

Lawyer Bertha Deleon (R) hugs Evelyn Hernandez after court acquits her. Photo: AAP

Some 147 Salvadoran women have been sentenced to up to 40 years in prison in such cases between 2000 and 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a local rights group.

The group said it will seek fresh reviews of at least 16 similar cases.

With Reuters.