The abortion law in Nicaragua, which bans all forms of abortion, is both draconian and implausible. Implemented in 2006, the law makes all types of abortions illegal regardless of the conditions or reasons. It is deeply embedded in the country’s strict Catholic and machista values in which men have ownership of women’s bodies.
Although abortion has been illegal in Nicaragua for more than a century, punishable with up to four years for women receiving one and 10 for doctors administering it, the new law outlawed all forms of abortion previously exempt. This includes therapeutic abortions permitted by doctors that saw the mother’s life at risk, complications with the fetus, or if the woman was a victim of rape.
One example of this is a highly publicized story of a 9-year-old Nicaraguan girl living in Costa Rica who became pregnant after being raped. Her family was advised to go through with the pregnancy and birth, even though it was clear the girl’s life was at risk. Her family snuck her back into Nicaragua, where they managed to get a group of doctors to allow a therapeutic abortion.
This controversial story was the subject of an award-winning 2005 documentary, “Rosita,” which showed the vociferous criticism of various Catholic priests and everyday people, further emphasizing the conservative view shared by the majority of the country. Today, Rosita, which is a pseudonym given to the young girl in order to protect her identity, would not be able to obtain an abortion.
Once an advocate for women’s rights, President Daniel Ortega’s revolutionary ideals have since changed to that of a born-again Christian, which has greatly influenced his political views and decisions; he refuses to lift the church-sponsored ban.
According to The Associated Press, Nicaragua is one of 35 countries to administer a no exceptions ban on abortion in 2006; Cuba is the only country in Latin America that doesn’t have a partial or absolute ban. The most drastic law exists in the very conservative El Salvador, where the crime is punishable with 50 years in prison.
Last year, the Nicaraguan Health Ministry reported that more than 80 pregnancy-related deaths have occurred within the span of 10 months. While less than 12 legal abortions are reported a year, the church estimates that about 36,000 abortions are carried out illegally by doctors.
Similar to the abortion debate in the U.S., this heated issue has divided Nicaragua. But in this tiny Central American country, instead of a fight between the pro-life and pro-choice advocates, it is one of religion vs. science, doctors vs. priests. Mobilization and protests occur on both sides. Doctors themselves are torn between risking their careers and denying crucial medical care to a patient. Due to the strict conditions of the law, doctors are forced to make a decision that could alter the fate of a woman’s life.
If Nicaragua continues down this road of religious fanaticism, more innocent women will be victims to unnecessary and avoidable death. Due to the country’s deep-seated Catholicism and machismo, women are forced to migrate to neighboring counties where they are often discriminated against, or seek help elsewhere.
In order for real change to occur in unstable Nicaragua, the flip-flopper president should instead focus on violence prevention, sex education and trying to mend the harsh economic and social conditions of his country.
Although the Sandinista government failed in many aspects while they were in power, they also created various social programs and accomplished a great deal in the reconstruction period after a civil war left the country in shambles. Ortega should live up to his party’s socialist ideals that do not exclude or marginalize women and other sectors of society.