[News] Nicaragua: At-Risk Pregnancy Means Death or Prison

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 2 11:20:39 EDT 2007


Nicaragua: At-Risk Pregnancy Means Death or Prison
by José Adán Silva; IPS; November 01, 2007

MANAGUA, Oct 31 (IPS) - Nearly 90 women have died 
in Nicaragua as a direct or indirect result of 
the repeal, one year ago, of the legislation 
permitting abortion in cases of risk to the 
mother’s health, according to women’s and human rights groups.

Ana María Pizarro, the head of the 
non-governmental organization (NGO) Sí Mujer, and 
Latin American coordinator of the 28th September 
Campaign for the Decriminalisation of Therapeutic 
Abortion, told IPS that the reform of the 
abortion law has driven up the number of 
fatalities reported in this impoverished Central American country.

Studies by Sí Mujer indicate that 12 young 
pregnant women died from lack of care in health 
centers where personnel were afraid of the 
penalties of up to eight years in jail and loss 
of their medical licence for doctors who carry 
out or assist in abortions, even when the action 
is taken to save the expectant mother’s life.

"In practice what is happening is a government 
death penalty imposed on women," said Pizarro, a gynecologist.

Lobbied by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic 
Church and conservative evangelical pastors, on 
Oct. 26, 2006 the Nicaraguan parliament approved 
the draft law to revoke article 165 of the 
criminal code, which had permitted abortion for medical reasons since 1893.

It applied in cases where the mother’s life was 
in danger, the fetus was deformed or irreversibly 
damaged, or the pregnancy was the result of rape 
or incest. It required certification by at least 
three doctors, and the authorization of the pregnant woman or her family.

The law revoking article 165 was passed in the 
agitated political climate leading up to the Nov. 
5 general elections, won by left wing candidate 
Daniel Ortega, who formed a controversial 
alliance with the retired archbishop of Managua, 
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the present 
coordinator of the government’s National Council for Reconciliation and Peace.

The parliamentary decision drew cries of outrage 
from some 30 local medical bodies, Central 
American human rights organizations, foreign 
diplomats, the World Health Organisation, the 
Pan-American Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies.

According to women’s movements, the repeal of the 
article was part of the political strategy of the 
left wing Sandinista National Liberation Front 
(FSLN), now in power, and the righting Liberal 
Constitutionalist Party (PLC), to win Catholic 
votes in the close-run elections.

The amended law entered into force in November 
2006, and was incorporated in September 2007 into the new criminal code.

Performing an abortion with the consent of the 
woman carries a prison sentence of one to three 
years. And if a doctor or health professional 
performs it, they will be banned from practising 
medicine or their health profession for two to 
five years, the new criminal code says.

Women who undergo abortions, whether self-induced 
or performed with their consent, also face prison 
terms of one to two years, says the controversial 
criminal code, which was approved by PLC and FSLN 
votes, with a majority of 66 out of a total of 91.

Patricia Orozco, coordinator of the Feminist 
Movement fighting for the reinstatement of 
therapeutic abortions, said that the group has 
already presented 54 appeals to the Supreme Court 
to declare the law unconstitutional.

"They have not replied, and we know that they 
won’t, because the Supreme Court serves the 
interests of the Liberal and Sandinista parties, 
who make the laws in this country," Orozco complained.

The Supreme Court’s press office said that the 
court would rule on the appeals against the law in due time.

However, the women’s groups believe that the 
answer to their appeal will be delayed as long as 
possible, until it falls into oblivion. "But 
while women keep dying, we will not forget," said 
Orozco, who stated that women have been under dual attack all year.

"Apart from having our right to life undermined, 
we have been attacked in the streets when we 
protest -- they have sent the police after us, 
have beaten us and have harassed us with legal 
charges of disturbing the peace," she complained.

Violent police crackdowns on women demonstrating 
in favour of the right to therapeutic abortion 
were also reported to IPS by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre (CENIDH).

"We have documented more than five mass 
aggressions against women participating in 
peaceful protests in the streets of Managua," said an activist.

In early October, Angela Heimburger, an Americas 
researcher with the New York-based Human Rights 
Watch, presented a study in Managua on the 
effects of implementing the ban on therapeutic 
abortions in Nicaragua since it was approved in 2006.

"It has had a devastating impact on women’s 
health and women’s lives," Heimburger told IPS.

The report, "Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of 
Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and 
Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua", documents 11 
cases, up until September, of women who died from 
causes related to the ban on therapeutic abortion 
and the denial of medical services in public hospitals.

The Health Ministry neither confirmed nor denied 
these figures, and in fact has issued no 
statistics on maternal health since the therapeutic abortion ban was approved.

"The government will always cover its tracks when 
it makes mistakes; we have no faith in its 
statistics," said Juana Jimenez, a leader of the 
Network of Women Against Violence, an NGO that 
has participated in the struggle for women’s rights.

According to the Autonomous Women’s Movement 
(MAM), between 800 and 1,000 therapeutic 
abortions were performed every year in the public 
health services before the ban was imposed. That 
means that "now there are between 800 and 1,000 
women at risk," a statement from the organization says.

Among other effects of the ban, MAM indicates 
that 2,500 young women have crossed borders into 
other Central American countries where they can 
undergo abortions without running such a high risk.

"Poorer women go to Costa Rica or Panama, and the 
wealthier fly to the United States," said the 
group, which announced that it would increase its 
protests and campaigns throughout the country.

The medical situation is being monitored closely 
by the U.N. representative in Nicaragua, Alfredo Missair.

"We know that the causes of maternal mortality 
are increasing, indirectly, from problems to do 
with providing or withholding healthcare, and 
that is a fact that must be faced," he told IPS.

"Unfortunately, therapeutic abortion is 
misrepresented as an abortion issue, when it is 
really about interrupting a pregnancy that could 
cause the death of the mother and the baby. It’s 
an issue that the country must make its own 
decision about, but mothers deserve an 
opportunity to exercise their right to life," Missair said.

Latin America is one of the regions that is 
closest to meeting the Millennium Development 
Goals (MDGs), but it has an outstanding debt with 
the goal of reducing maternal mortality, said 
Missair. The U.N. estimates the maternal 
mortality rate in Nicaragua at 90 per 100,000 live births.

"In developed countries, the maternal mortality 
rate is around 25 deaths per 100,000 live births," he noted. (END/2007)

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