Nicaragua abortion ban called a threat to lives
Doctors and women’s groups are warning that Nicaragua’s ban on all abortions — even to save the mother — will endanger the lives of thousands of women every year.
With the new law, which imposes prison sentences of up to eight years for women and doctors , Nicaragua joins El Salvador and Chile as having the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Latin America and among the toughest in the world.
In El Salvador, women who develop ectopic pregnancies — when a fertilized egg gets stuck in a fallopian tube, giving it no chance of survival — are kept under guard in a hospital. A prosecutor must certify that the embryo has died or the woman’s tube has ruptured before doctors can intervene.
In Chile, where abortion is punished with three to five years in prison, legislators last week rejected without debate a bill that would have permitted it in limited circumstances. Nevertheless, rich women go to private clinics where secret abortions are recorded as tumors or miscarriages while poor women obtain back-alley abortions, with an estimated 32,000 suffering serious injuries every year.
Abortion is criminalized throughout majority-Catholic Latin America, except in Cuba. Exceptions are made in most countries to save the mother’s life, a procedure known throughout the region as “therapeutic abortion.” Yet women in the region, who have poor access to contraception, have some of the highest rates of abortion in the world — with an estimated 3.9 million annually, or nearly one per woman over her lifetime.
According to the World Health Organization, South America is the continent with the highest rate of unsafe, clandestine abortions.
As many as 21 percent of maternal deaths in Latin America are associated with abortion, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a US-based research center on reproductive issues.
Colombia was the one Latin American country to liberalize its law earlier this year, allowing abortions in cases of danger to a woman’s life, rape, or severe fetal deformity — exceptions that are now being challenged by a group of abortion opponents.
In Nicaragua, Dr. Oscar Flores MejÃa, of Nicaragua’s National Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the new law has sent fear and confusion through the medical community. He said many doctors understand the ban to mean they can do nothing “to interrupt pregnancy from the moment of conception until birth.”
That rules out operations to save women with ectopic pregnancies, eclampsia, cardiac problems, or other life-threatening complications if doctors could not guarantee that the fetus would survive, Flores said.
“This law is forcing us to be delinquent in our jobs,” he said. [full text]