[News] Nicaragua: At-Risk Pregnancy Means Death or Prison
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
mothers health, according to womens 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 mothers 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 mothers 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 governments 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 womens 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
wont, because the Supreme Court serves the
interests of the Liberal and Sandinista parties,
who make the laws in this country," Orozco complained.
The Supreme Courts press office said that the
court would rule on the appeals against the law in due time.
However, the womens 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 womens
health and womens 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 womens rights.
According to the Autonomous Womens 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. Its
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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