Commentary Religion

What a Different Reading of Mary Magdalene Can Tell Us About the Christian Value of a Woman’s Voice

Nynia Chance

The War on Women fights to take away a women's rights to make decisions for their own lives, instead granting male leaders the sole authority to dictate their allowable actions.  This injustice is furthered by a common Fundamentalist Christian idea that a woman can't be entrusted with authority even over themselves. If we take another look at the Bible, however, we'll have to confront this idea with the example of a woman whom Christ himself had entrusted with the authority to bear his message: Mary Magdalene

In my introduction to the Christian Role in the War on Women, I promised I’d be exploring this role using much shorter bulletins. However, I uncovered so much in preparing this first one, I wanted to share it all wth you. So here’s the summary portion, for those who just want the gist:

  1. Mainstream Christian authorities have claimed for millenia that the proper place for a woman is to be submissive to men in all things.

  2. This is kept alive today in Fundamentalist circles by the claim that women never held positions of religious authority, particularly in the earliest days of the Christian church.

  3. As a result, many Fundamentalist Christians claim that it’s the place of male authorities to decide what a woman should be allowed to do, and that it’s the duty of all Christians to enforce these dictates.

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  4. A re-examining of the Bible shows that at least one woman was appointed by Christ to deliver his teaching to men: Mary Magdalene.

  5. With this in mind, it may said that a Christian should listen to the wisdom and leadership shared by all people, regardless of gender.

Before I get into the details, I want to offer two apologies about my introduction. First, I neglected to specify that the War on Women may be fueled by the efforts of many people who feel it is a part of their Christianity, but that does not make this a Christian war. As someone of very Christian heritage who’s used to facing all sorts of popular assumptions about that term, I really ought to have known better. In fact, my efforts here are to share my perspective that the “more Christlike” Christian role in the War on Women is to defend women and our rights.

Second, I knowingly repeated a common misunderstanding about Mary Magdalene because it’s so much in my context, but I soon came to regret it. I set out to vindicate her in this piece, and my research on stories about her led to writings about her that I had never encountered before. To give the proper care and attention to the major points, I’m going to touch on each one.

And I really think that this deserves extra care and attention, as the stories of Mary Magdalene can challenge some very fundamental ideas about what Christianity means (pun intended).  One of the hardest things with religion is to challenge what we think we know about it.  Whether we are for or against something, if we’ve heavily invested in a particular understanding, it can be tough to risk giving that up.  So let’s start with what the general assumptions are out there in the public sphere about what the “Christian view of women” is presumed to be.

I think we’re all pretty well-versed in Summary points 1 and 2, above.  It’s frequently assumed that Christianity demands women accept a submissive role, with her mind, body and soul belonging to her duty to be a meek help-meet to her husband and mother to as many children as she may bear.  A woman should bear her testimony and instruct children in the Bible and so on, but otherwise should never presume to speak up on behalf of Jesus, particularly where it might place her above the status of any man.  In short, a woman should be seen and heard as little as possible, out of deference to the natural authority of a man.

Now, I do realize that I’m definitely making some pretty broad generalizations here, but I think I’ve hit the major points being pushed through the War on Women by many who claim to speak for Christianity.  They don’t speak for all of us, but theirs is the message so many people tend to hear.  Now, it’s time to compare their claims to how Jesus seemed to view women through the example of his treatment of one woman in particular: Mary Magdalene.

In my intro text, I referred to the story of Mary Magdalene being dragged forward by the crowd under accusations of prostitution, intending to stone her to death.  In the story, Jesus told the crowd that only the one who hadn’t sinned could throw the first stone.  The crowd each recognized that their souls bore their own errors, and didn’t dare claim to be blameless.  Jesus then forgave Mary, and she repented of her sins and followed him.

That’s the way the story goes, anyway, as it’s commonly repeated.  And that’s why I phrased my thoughts as I did, because those who have repeated the story that way have so often gone on to break my heart with their stone-throwing toward people in our lives.  But the biblical truth of the story has a few very instructive twists.

The biblical version starts with the Book of John, when the Pharisees are said to have brought a woman caught committing adultery (though not the man who had to have been there).  They said the Law of Moses demanded the woman be stoned, and tried to test Jesus as to whether he’d contradict this ruling.  Instead, Jesus crouched down to write in the dirt, saying that he who is without sin should cast the first stone.  The Pharisees left rather than declare themselves blameless in condemning the woman to death.  Jesus then stood up with the woman and said he also does not condemn her, and advised her to go and “sin no more”.

Let’s stop a moment here and note what Jesus said before sending the woman on her way: “Neither do I condemn you.”  Even though the law of the land had condemned her to death for breaking a marriage covenant while female, Jesus taught through example that this law was wrong.  He also taught that it is wrong to condemn a woman for her perceived sins, or to rebuke her or shame her.  Rather, he spoke to her respectfully, even though a religious teacher was expected never to speak to a woman in public, not even his wife.  And when he spoke, he didn’t preach at her, or lecture her about how what she was presumed to have done was wrong.  He simply stated that he would not condemn her, and advised her to keep good conduct from that day forward.  No “or else”, no threats of damnation, nothing.  Just a respectful farewell.  That’s something to learn from.

Now we’ll learn something about the idea of women speaking up as teachers and leaders in the Christian tradition.  Mary Magdalene is named in the books of Luke and Mark only as a woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.  Nothing more is said of her background, however much one may speculate.  However, in 591 Pope Gregory I made some assumptions about her history in Homily XXXIII.  Long story short, he claimed that the casting out of seven demons meant she had indulged in the seven deadly sins, that this meant she clearly perfumed herself to indulge in sexual crimes, that she then used this perfume to anoint Jesus, and that with this act of penitence she devoted herself to serving Jesus.

There’s a few problems with this:

  1. The healing of illnesses was frequently referred to as the casting out of devils, given how they referred to disease.  And even if Mary Magdalene had been possessed, the Bible has other examples of an innocent person being possessed.

  2. It’s in the Book of Luke that the penitent sinner washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair.  Since Simon the Pharisee believed the woman to be unclean this implies her perceived sins were sexual in nature, and since an adulteress is put to death it’s further assumed she’s a prostitute.  But even though Mary Magdalene was introduced immediately following this story, the Bible doesn’t say they are the same person.  Generally, the Bible tries to be clearer on stuff like that, so there’s no reason to assume Mary was a prostitute.

  3. The woman use anointed Jesus with perfume was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.  However, because in her story she also dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, it seems the Homily is placing the anointing as the work of Mary of Magdala.  Mary of Bethany had much to commend her for, so this confusion is unfortunate.

Fortunately, the Vatican later turned away from the Homily above in 1969 via the Roman Missal declaring Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany and the penitent woman to be three different people.  That said, many people still make the confusion of Mary of Bethany with the penitent sinner because of the hair-drying bit, but we’ll save that Mary for another time.

What’s important here is that many people still assume that Mary Magdalene was the penitent sinner, and that this sinner was also the adulteress who was dragged through the streets to be stoned to death for her perceived transgressions.  The Bible doesn’t say this, but for various reasons this level of association can still be out there.  And you know what, let’s grant for the moment that this might be true.  Let’s presume that Mary of Magdala may have once been a prideful woman who committed any number of sexual acts with a man or men who weren’t her husband.  What does that mean for the appropriate Christian view of the worthiness and value of this woman?

Absolutely nothing.  Even if these allegations are true, Mary Magdalene clearly holds a special place in the Gospels, and in the life of Jesus.  He defied the customs of his time that forbade women from being spoken to in public, instead welcoming them and interacting with them.  It was the financial support of the group of women who followed him that enabled his mission, and the word used for how they served him was “diakonos”, which is translated in the Bible as “minister”, “servant” and “deacon”.

Further, Mary Magdalene was depicted as more than just another follower.  She was among the women who remained with Jesus at the cross when even his male apostles had fled from him.  She is the one who stayed by his tomb, chosen to be the first to greet the resurrected Christ.  Jesus deemed her worthy for a special teaching and a commission to be the apostle to the apostles with news of his return.  Even though the testimony of a woman was worthless in the eyes of their laws, Jesus saw that the word of a woman was to be honored.

And that’s where the story gets interesting, now that I’ve stopped to really think about it.  Rather than gladly receive the teaching that Jesus had sent to them, the male apostles rejected the message completely, because it had come through a woman.  When Jesus later appeared to them, he chastised them for their lack of faith in their spurning of the messenger he had appointed.  He could have first appeared to whomever he chose, and he chose she who was seeking him with the most earnest devotion.  Since he didn’t feel a woman was beneath being a conduit for his word, why should they?

That alone could be example enough of how, historically, Christian authorities have erred when they rejected the idea that Christ would appoint women as teachers or even leaders, all the way back to the very beginning.  But as it happens, there’s a little more to it than that.  Even though Paul is credited with some problematic ideas on the value of a woman’s word as a teacher, he also gave great thanks and honors to women who dedicated and gave their lives in the early forming of Christianity.  One such commendation was to a Junia, who with her partner Andronicus were mentioned as noted among the apostles.  In some versions of the Bible, though, her name was given as “Junias”, presumably because the translators or editors again rejected that a woman could be granted such an important mission.

This same ancient cultural prejudice against women holding religious authority may also have come into play with regards to where Mary Magdalene’s story ends.  In Romans 16 Paul also greeted a “Mary, who bestowed much labour on us”, but we can’t assume it’s the same Mary.  It’s commonly understood that she retired to Ephesus with Mary the Mother of Jesus, where they stayed until their deaths.

That said, there were early Christians who claimed that Mary Magdalene did continue an apostolic mission, spreading the teachings that Jesus had imparted to her.  This sect claimed that Mary Magdalene was the unnamed Beloved Disciple from the gospel known as the Book of John, which they believed was the repository of Mary’s teachings.  The sectarians are generally known as the Gnostics, and their texts have since become available in the discovery known as the Nag Hammadi library.  You can read their texts dealing with Mary Magdalene online, particularly at Magdalene.org, a place dedicated to writings about their favorite saint.

The Gnostics were devoted egalitarians who felt that women were fully equal to men, and that Mary Magdalene was above them all due to her special understanding and relationship with Jesus.  In the Gnostic text The Sophia of Jesus Christ, it refers to seven women in addition to the twelve male disciples, and in the Pistis Sophia the women and men discourse together at greath length on equal terms.  This was one of the points that had met with such resistance from the more authoritative branch of Christianity, most notably Irenaeus, the early Christian writer whose repudiations of Gnosticism were previously one of the only resources available regarding what Gnostics may have believed.

Irenaeus emphatically repudiated the Gnostic interpretations of the Book of John, which is significant given that the earliest known commentary on this book was by the Gnostic Heracleon around year 180, who explored the Gnostic themes and ideas therein.  It’s been speculated by Ramon K. Jusino that the Book of John was originally Gnostic, being more clear in naming the Beloved Disciple as Mary Magdalene.  He makes a pretty decent case in how one might think an editor removed the identity and reversed the gender of the Beloved Disciple to gain mainstream approval to retain its other teachings.  While that’s not exactly the accepted lineage of the Book of John, its authorship is generally regarded as a mystery.

Regardless, the important point is that there was a large number of early Christians who believed that Mary of Magdala was not just a disciple of Jesus, but also an appointed teacher to the Christian church.  Thanks to Paul, we also have the canonical texts of the Christian Bible commending women as important leaders in the foundation of the church.  So even if we can’t assume that Mary of Magdala was the Beloved Disciple, it would be presumptuous to presume that she couldn’t have been a teacher and leader just because she was a woman.

And yet, there have been Christian authorities who have rejected women’s authority out of hand, all the way back to when the apostles rejected Mary Magdalene and her message directly from the risen Christ.  With all this in mind, it’s valid to question whether someone can so reflexively reject a woman’s word if they want to consider themselves followers of Christ, rather than merely obedients to Christian authorities.

In fact, it’s also valid to question whether there should be a group of men holding final authority for what a Christian may believe, versus it being each person’s responsibility to hear what the leaders have to say and meditate in their own hearts to seek and find the truth as it is revealed to them.  I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that this was a point of fierce debate in the early days of the Christian church, and is still debated today.  Still, I do believe that Jesus seemed to follow the latter path.  After all, if Jesus has submitted himself to the religious understanding as taught by the religious authorities of his day, his ministry never would have started.

Just something else to think about.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”

News Human Rights

Judge Overturns Homicide Conviction of El Salvador Woman Jailed After a Miscarriage

Kathy Bougher

Like dozens of other women in El Salvador, where abortion is completely illegal, Maria Teresa Rivera faced criminal charges in 2012 after experiencing obstetric complications.

Read more of our coverage on the campaign for Las 17, the 17 Salvadoran women imprisoned on abortion-related charges, here.

El Salvador trial court Judge Martín Rogel Zepeda on Friday overturned the 40-year prison sentence of Maria Teresa Rivera, who was convicted of aggravated homicide four years ago after experiencing a miscarriage in November 2011.

Rivera’s special session trial, which revisited her original 2012 conviction and sentence, began May 11. It resumed Friday after a weeklong recess to accommodate a key prosecution witness, a government forensic medicine specialist.

Like dozens of other women in El Salvador, where abortion is completely illegal, Rivera faced criminal charges after experiencing obstetric complications. In Rivera’s case, an unattended, unexpected labor resulted in the death of the fetus; an eventual autopsy report listed its cause of death as “perinatal asphyxia.” As previously reported by Rewire, Judge José Antonio Flores “interpreted the autopsy report to mean that Rivera had carried out an intentional criminal act,” ultimately convicting her of aggravated homicide.

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Witnesses for the May 11 defense included four physicians who helped clarify a major source of confusion throughout the legal process over the use of the term “perinatal asphyxia.” In medical terms, they explained, it is a condition—the inadequate intake of oxygen by the fetus—that is an unfortunate cause of death, but which can occur naturally during the birth process. The person giving birth does not cause the death.

According to those present at the trial, the government-employed forensic medicine specialist testified Friday that there was no certainty as to how the fetus died of perinatal asphyxia or evidence that Rivera had done anything intentional to cause the death. Alberto Romero from the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Depenalization del Aborto, the Salvadoran feminist organization that has supported Rivera since her charge and conviction, noted to Rewire via phone and email the “professionalism and clarity” of the specialist.

In a courtroom packed with Salvadoran and international supporters, Rivera addressed the judge directly as part of the closing statement of her attorney, Victor Hugo Mata. According to Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, the room was absolutely silent as Rivera asked the judge to grant her freedom not just for herself, but also for her 10-year old son, whom she had not seen in three years. She showed the judge his photo and told him his name.

After a 30-minute recess, during which additional supporters outside on the streets chanted “freedom for Teresa,” the judge delivered his verdict: There was no evidence that Rivera had murdered her infant son, meaning the original verdict should be overturned.

As Rivera’s attorney Mata noted in the first part of the trial on May 11, the witness from forensic medicine who spoke Friday was also subpoenaed to appear at her original trial in 2012, but did not do so. Mata noted to the judge that if the specialist had testified at that trial, perhaps he would have been able to clarify the misconceptions about “perinatal asphyxia.”

If that had been the case, Romero said to Rewire after Friday’s trial, “perhaps Rivera would have been absolved at that time.”

According to Herrera, there are still about 25 women imprisoned in El Salvador under similar circumstances to Rivera’s. “Most of the imprisoned women experienced judicial errors similar to those that occurred in Maria’s Teresa trial,” she said.

We continue to work to change those medical and legal protocols for women already charged,” she told Rewire. However, she noted, “We also need to work to change the anti-abortion laws that criminalize abortion and also obstetric emergencies, and thereby set off the events that cause women to be unjustly imprisoned.”

After four years behind bars, Rivera left the courthouse on Friday a free woman. “Thanks so much to everyone who has helped me,” she told Rewire by phone. “What’s most important is that I’ve hugged my son again.”