Since July 2008, abortion in all circumstances has been banned in Nicaragua. The new law makes no exceptions for terminating pregnancies that endanger the health or life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest. Girls or women seeking or obtaining abortions are subject to imprisonment. Health care professionals providing abortions — or even unintentionally injuring a fetus — face jail time and being barred from practice.
A new Amnesty International report, The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua, details the effects of the new measures. Medical professionals are put in an impossible situation: they’re prevented, on pain of criminal prosecution, from providing essential medical services — in direct contradiction of best-practice guidelines from the Ministry of Health. Women who need abortions to preserve their health — or lives — have to find doctors willing to risk prosecution and suspension of their license, or seek out dangerous back-alley terminations.
The ban has a chilling effect, too, on women suffering obstetric complications: one woman admitted to a hospital following a miscarriage was so frightened that she would be charged with having an abortion that she asked doctors not to intervene. The rate of maternal deaths in Nicaragua has increased: Official figures show that 33 girls and women have died in pregnancy or childbirth so far this year, up from 20 in the same period a year ago.
Finally, girls and women who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence must either carry the pregnancy to term, or look for risky, clandestine abortions. Our researchers spoke with women, raped by relatives, who were forced to give birth — sometimes to their own brothers or sisters. In every case, it’s low-income women who are hit hardest — richer Nicaraguans are able to travel abroad to escape the ban.
Now, all of this was shockingly, appallingly predictable — but the full litany of violations makes terrible reading. That the Nicaraguan health minister is dismissing the report just shows how hard human rights supporters will have to push to overturn the ban.