Woman Faces 20 Years in Jail After Having Her Rapist’s Baby

The case of 20-year-old Salvadoran woman Imelda Cortez shows in painful clarity the consequences women face in countries with extreme abortion bans. Cortez became pregnant after years of sexual abuse by her stepfather. Now, despite her baby being born healthy, she faces charges for intentionally inducing abortion.

Cortez’s now 70-year-old stepfather sexually abused her since she was 11. Two years ago, when Cortez was 18, she became pregnant as a result of this abuse. She said she had no idea she was pregnant until one day her mother found her bleeding heavily and in extreme pain. She didn’t even realize she’d given birth.

After Cortez rushed to the hospital, doctors believed that despite her baby being born healthy, Cortez had tried to induce an abortion. They called the police. Abortion is not legal under any circumstances in El Salvador, and Cortez was charged with attempted murder and denied bail. She has been imprisoned ever since and has never been allowed to hold her baby, who is now almost two years old.

While in the hospital, Cortez’s stepfather visited and threatened to kill her if she ever revealed the sexual abuse. Another patient overheard the threat and told a nurse, who called the police. DNA tests confirm that the baby is his. Charges against him, though, have yet to be filed.

Despite a psychological evaluation showing that Cortez suffers from the effects of abuse and trauma, she has not received any psychological care.

“Imelda was repeatedly raped by her stepfather from the age of 11,” said Cortez’s lawyer, Alejandra Romero. “DNA tests prove her child is the daughter of her stepfather. Yet Imelda is being treated as a criminal, not a victim of sexual violence.”

El Salvador completely banned abortion 21 years ago, which has led to the “aggressive persecution of women,” particularly those who are poor, single, and from rural areas. Cortez is currently one of about 25 women in El Salvador accused of inducing abortions but who say they actually faced miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications. This is exactly the extreme outcome expected of abortion bans—women who are already suffering after a horrific experience being further traumatized and victimized because of an unjust system that enjoys making an example out of them.

These cases are usually based on flimsy evidence, as it’s difficult to prove an attempted abortion. Earlier this year, a Salvadoran woman was released after almost 15 years in prison after the Supreme Court determined there had never been evidence she’d had an abortion. Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was 24 years old and nine months pregnant when she suffered a stillbirth with her second child. She now speaks out against the abortion ban and works as an activist on behalf of other women who have been affected by this cruelty.

Earlier this year, the UN requested El Salvador change its abortion laws, but with upcoming elections hopes that change will come any time soon are fading. Parliament created a bill on the issue two years ago, but it remains stuck in committee.

Related at Care2

Photo Credit: Getty Images

63 comments

Latoya B
Latoya Brookins16 hours ago

I don't think abortion should even be the issue. They still weren't doing their job. They ignored pedophilia, child abuse, etc, and arrested another woman with zero evidence. That's not being pro life, that's just incompetent. They are using the pretense of protecting babies to ignore babies being hurt and to find reasons to condemn women.

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Salla T
Salla Tuu12 days ago

Can't find any words...

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Paul B
Paul B13 days ago

Susanne,
Thanks for the clarification. I was kind of thinking that, but the article was confusing to me.
Yes, I have also heard of women giving birth who didn't know they were pregnant, even girls in school bathrooms. This situation is sad and hopefully they will be able to do something for her.

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heather g
heather g15 days ago

El Salvador is a man's world that's fully in their control and the women need to fight for change. Persevere....

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Dave fleming
Past Member 16 days ago

Free this woman, And start to live in the 21st century.

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Susanne R
Susanne R20 days ago

Paul B. - It doesn't state that she tried to have an abortion. It states that she never realized she was pregnant until she gave birth. Because of the circumstances of the birth and the heavy bleeding, it was "assumed" that she had attempted to end her pregnancy. The fact that she delivered a healthy, full-term infant should have been proof that she did not attempt to harm a child she didn't know she was carrying. And yes. It does happen. Women give birth without realizing they're pregnant quite often. Consider a female who had been traumatized since she was 11 years old...whose mother appeared to have looked the other way...and whose stepfather threatened her with violence. I'm surprised she was able to maintain her sanity.

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Paul B
Paul B20 days ago

I'm Confused. At first it said she didn't even know she was pregnant until she gave birth, but then states that she tried to have an abortion. That is contradictory. Why would she try to have an abortion if she didn't even know she was pregnant?

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Teresa W
Teresa W20 days ago

Pam is right.

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Teresa W
Teresa W20 days ago

Horrible!

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Susanne R
Susanne R20 days ago

Wouldn't it be nice if Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, interceded on her behalf?

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