The Irish Times July 29th
• Amnesty condemns abortion ban
TRACY WILKINSON in Mexico City
NICARAGUA’S TOTAL ban on abortion is a violation of human rights and is killing a growing number of women and children, Amnesty International has said in launching a campaign to have the measure repealed.
In a report released in Mexico City yesterday, the international human rights organisation said Nicaragua’s law, which went into effect in late 2006, put it in a group with only 3 per cent of the world’s nations that do not allow abortion under any circumstance.
Citing statistics from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, the report said 33 women and girls died from pregnancy complications in the first 19 weeks of this year, compared with 20 in the same period last year.
But it added that the real numbers were probably much higher.
Nicaragua has one of Latin America’s highest rates of sexual violence, with the abuse often perpetrated by fathers, uncles or other relatives. At least 50 per cent of reported rapes are of girls under 18, and most of those who get pregnant are under 15, the report said.
Women and girls who have been impregnated by rapists or whose life or health is at risk are not allowed to abort.
“A festering, debilitating human rights situation [is] bringing grave fear, threat, harm and even death to Nicaragua’s girl children and women,” Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty International, said in Mexico City.
Abortion laws are generally restrictive in most of Latin America. The irony in Nicaragua is that the ban was backed by now-president Daniel Ortega, who led the left-wing Sandinista revolution 30 years ago and championed women’s rights. In the middle of the 2006 election season, Mr Ortega promoted the law to gain the support of the Catholic Church and return to power.
The ban ended a 100-year-old exception that had allowed abortion when the woman’s health was at risk.
Amnesty International issued its 50-page report following an investigation in Nicaragua by Ms Gilmore and a team of experts. She said Mr Ortega refused to see them, and the health minister dismissed their findings of a growing mortality rate among pregnant women as unfounded.
Dr Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of Medical Practitioners, said the ban has had a chilling effect on doctors.
“Not being allowed to do everything to save your patient goes against medical ethics,” he said in a telephone interview from Managua.
Fearing they will break the law, many doctors decline to treat pregnant women in obstetric emergencies, or delay treatment, increasing the risks, he said.
The ban initially contained penalties of as long as six years for women who had abortions and the doctors who performed them. The penalty was raised to eight years last year. Some advocates wanted sentences of as long as 30 years. No one has been charged or put on trial yet.
While criticised by human rights and women’s groups since it was first drafted, the prohibition received wide support from the church and from several political parties in addition to Mr Ortega’s Sandinistas. A petition supporting the ban collected 300,000 signatures.
Proponents contended at the time that advances in medical science now allowed doctors to bring a foetus to the point of viability without endangering the woman’s life and that warnings of heightened dangers were exaggerated. But Ms Gilmore said lawmakers ignored expert opinion to the contrary.– ( LA Times-Washington Post service)