Nicaragua: The Reality of Abortion Restrictions Revealed

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Nicaragua: The Reality of Abortion Restrictions Revealed

Angela Castellanos

Think concerns over "egg-as-person" laws in the US are overblown? In Nicaragua, pregnant women suffering from cancer are refused appropriate treatment and girls pregnant as a result of rape are compelled to carry to term, to name just a few...

In Nicaragua, pregnant women suffering from cancer are not
allowed to receive appropriate treatment; girls pregnant as a result of rape are compelled to face the health risks
of teen motherhood; and women carrying severely deformed fetuses are forced to put their
mental health at risk over nine months to carry the fetus to term.


These are just some of the situations resulting from the law
which bans abortion in all circumstances, approved in 2006 by the National Assembly
of Nicaragua. But there is more. Amnesty International carried out a field
mission and described what they have seen as “sheer horror,” in the words of Kate
Gilmore, Amnesty International’s Executive Deputy Secretary General.

Last July, Amnesty International issued the report The total
abortion ban in Nicaragua: Women’s lives and health endangered, medical
professionals criminalized
, concluding that Nicaragua’s total ban on abortions
is endangering the lives of girls and women, denying them life-saving
treatment, preventing health professionals from practicing effective medicine
and contributing to an increase in maternal deaths across the country.

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"Nicaragua’s ban of therapeutic abortion is a disgrace.
It is a human rights scandal that ridicules medical science and distorts the
law into a weapon against the provision of essential medical care to pregnant
girls and women," said Gilmore, at a press conference in Mexico City,
where the report was disclosed.

In fact, the revised Penal Code stipulates prison sentences
for girls and women who seek an abortion and introduces criminal sanctions for
doctors and nurses who treat a pregnant woman or girl for illnesses such as
cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS or cardiac emergencies where such treatment is
contraindicated in pregnancy and may cause injury to or death of the embryo or

The law allows no exemption, even when continuing a
pregnancy risks the life or health of the woman or girl or when the pregnancy
is the result of rape.

In Nicaragua, according to media reports cited by Amnesty
International, 16 percent of pregnancies in teenage girls were the result of rape, including incest, and
87 percent of them were between 10 and 14 years old.

During the mission, Amnesty International delegates met with girls who were victims of rape by close family members or friends, who were nonetheless compelled to
carry the pregnancy to full term. But Amnesty researchers could not talk with some of the pregnant
teenagers because several had just committed suicide by consuming poison, or lost
their lives while trying to interrupt their pregnancies using unsafe methods.

The maternal mortality rate in Nicaragua for the year 2000,
based in the reviews and estimations of UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA, is 170 per
100.000 live births, and it is even higher in the Atlantic region, the
country’s poorest region.

According to Amnesty International, 13 percent of all
maternal deaths in Nicaragua are due to unsafe abortions.

Although it is hard to estimate the maternal deaths
resulting from the ban, according to official figures 33 girls and women have
died due to complications of pregnancy this year as compared to 20 in the same period last year,
whereas a Human Rights Watch mission to Nicaragua reports the deaths of at least 80 women in the eleven months following the ban.

The report filed by Human Rights Watch, entitled “Over
their Dead Bodies, Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic
Abortion in Nicaragua”
, issued on October 2007, documented the same
negative effects which Amnesty International verified in its mission to
Nicaragua.  This is to say, that
the Nicaraguan government has been deaf to the evidence of human right

“Girls pregnant as a result of incest had the courage to
meet with us to speak out against the situation but President Ortega did not.
It appears the Nicaraguan authorities could not stand up for the law, would not
be accountable for the law nor commit themselves to its urgent repeal,” added
Gilmore, according to a international media.

Although the bill restricting abortion was signed by the
former Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños, none of the members of the
National Assembly voted against it, so the result was 52 in favor, 9 abstaining
and 29 absent. The law was approved considering political interests, since the
vote occurred just before the presidential elections. In fact, rejecting the
bill could result in loosing votes in the presidential elections.

Current President Daniel Ortega, who was a defender of
Nicaragua’s limited abortion rights and a critic of the Catholic Church when he
led a left-wing Nicaraguan government in the 1980s, today prefers to turn a
blind on human rights regarding women.

Amnesty International is urging the Nicaraguan authorities
to repeal the law that bans all forms of abortion; guarantee safe and
accessible abortion services for rape victims and women whose lives or health
would be at risk from the continuation of pregnancy; and protect the freedom of
speech of those who speak out against the law and offer comprehensive support
to the women and girls affected by the law.

Amnesty International is also calling on Nicaragua’s Supreme
Court to issue a decision on the legality and constitutionality of the law as a
matter of the utmost urgency.