Nicaragua poised to ban all abortion
Under the new law, women and doctors would be prosecuted.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
MEXICO CITY -- Nicaragua's legislature is expected today to approve a law that outlaws all forms of abortion, including those procedures intended to save the life of a pregnant mother.
The measure has been supported by most major political parties, heading into the Nov. 5 presidential election, as they seek to win over voters in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church helped draft the bill and have mobilized followers to support it.
Medical associations in Nicaragua and international human-rights groups have strongly criticized the proposal.
Since the late 1980s, Latin America's El Salvador and Chile have adopted similar measures. At least 34 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, prohibit all abortions, without exception, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group based in New York.
The law would establish prison sentences of six to 30 years for women who abort their pregnancies and the doctors who perform the procedure.
Leaders of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front and the ruling right-wing Liberal Alliance have said their representatives would vote for the proposal. The two groups control all but one of the seats in the 92-member legislature.
"The current law allows a small door in which abortions can be performed, and we are trying to close that door," said Dr. Rafael Cabrera, an obstetrician and leader of the Yes to Life Movement. "We don't believe a child should be destroyed under the pretext that a woman might die."
Cabrera and other backers of the law argue that medical science has advanced sufficiently to allow doctors to bring a fetus to the point of viability without endangering a woman's life.
But doctors with the Nicaraguan Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics told a Managua news conference Tuesday that the measure would endanger the lives of women and make doctors reluctant to perform life-saving procedures.
"When a woman arrives at a hospital with vaginal bleeding ... we're going to be afraid to do anything," society president Efrain Toruno said, according to the newspaper El Nuevo Diario. "If we treat her we could be prosecuted, and if we don't we could also be prosecuted."
Women's groups in Nicaragua charge the proposed law is a cynical pre-election ploy that panders to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The text of the law, they point out, is almost identical to a church proposal drafted earlier this year.
Outgoing President Bolanos fast-tracked the bill, using his authority to present emergency legislation to the National Assembly.
"The worst message of this proposed law is that the lives of women don't matter to this president, or to the government or the church," said Marta Maria Blandon, Central American Director of Ipas, a U.S.-based reproductive rights group.
Ipas estimates that 32,000 illegal abortions are performed in Nicaragua each year, many under unsafe conditions. Only 24 abortions authorized by law have been performed in Nicaragua in the past three years.
In 2004, a 9-year-old rape victim received an abortion under the current law's provisions.
Nearly all Latin American countries outlaw abortion, but most, including Nicaragua, allow the procedure in cases of rape and to preserve the life of the mother. Many countries, including Mexico, are working to make abortion more accessible to women who qualify for such exceptions.
Jose Maria Vivanco, Americas director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said the law could lead to lawsuits in international courts. Nicaragua is one of many Latin American countries to recognize the authority of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica.
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