Nicaragua's Abortion Ban Putting Women's Lives At Risk

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Abortion Ban

Nicaragua's abortion ban is endangering women's lives because it hasfailed to ensure medical care is offered to women, including those withobstetric emergencies, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 10/2). The report said the ban has caused the death of at least 80 women since it was implemented last year (Reuters, 10/2).

Nicaragua'sAsamblea Nacional, the national Legislature, in October 2006 voted 52-0with nine abstentions and 29 not present to pass a bill that bansabortion in all cases, and President Enrique Bolanos in November 2006signed the measure into law. According to the law, women convicted ofhaving an illegal abortion and those convicted of assisting themreceive mandatory six-year prison sentences (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,1/10). Wendy Flores, an attorney for the Nicaraguan Human RightsCenter, said she has asked the country's Supreme Court to declare thelaw unconstitutional because it puts the lives of women at risk, butshe said the court so far has ignored her request.

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According toHRW, the law has stopped women from seeking help for pregnancy-relatedcomplications. The report said that women and girls are afraid to seekmedical care fearing "they will be accused of having induced anabortion," and physicians are unwilling to provide legal healthservices fearing they might be subject to prosecution under the ban.Angela Heimburger, researcher for the Americas at HRW's Women's Rights Division,said, "Some testified that personnel at public hospitals refused womenand girls adequate care after devastating miscarriages, with directreference to the ban." HRW was not able to document any cases ofphysicians or others who have been accused of performing abortions, butit said prosecutions appeared to be rare (AP/International Herald Tribune, 10/3).

According to an HRW release,the report shows that President Daniel Ortega's government has notstudied the health effects of the ban, and the government does notappear to have investigated or sanctioned medical workers who do notimplement protocols issued by the country's Ministry of Health on legalmedical treatments for women (HRW release, 10/2).

Reaction

Maritza Cuan, spokesperson for the health ministry, refused to comment on the report, the AP/Tribunereports. Heimburger said, "President Ortega should immediately helpmitigate the disastrous effects of this ban by prioritizing pregnantwomen's access to emergency medical care," adding that Ortega "needs toreassure women they will not be punished for trying to stay alive."

LeonelArguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine, saidthat82 women have died because of pregnancy complications between Jan.1 and Sept. 15 and that six of the deaths could have been prevented (AP/International Herald Tribune, 10/3).
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Women's Health Policy Report, search thearchives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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