MANAGUA – Capitulating to strong pressure from the religious right, the governing directorate of the legislative National Assembly promised this week to present to lawmakers an initiative to penalize therapeutic abortions in the new Penal Code – a move that would reverse a century-old guarantee for women and place Nicaragua among only a handful of countries in the world to outlaw abortion to save a woman’s life.
Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) congresswoman María Auxiliadora Alemán, first secretary of the legislative directorate, told The Nica Times this week that the debate over therapeutic abortion would go the legislative floor this week, following a massive pro-life march on the capital Oct. 6 led by leaders of the Catholic and Evangelical churches.
The march culminated with religious leaders presenting lawmakers with an initiative to criminalize abortion in all forms.
“The PLC is against abortion,” Alemán said. “On Wednesday (Oct. 11) we will open debate on the issue during congressional session. From there it will have to go to commission, where the issue will be studied and other sectors of society consulted before the new law is passed.”
For several months the National Assembly has been working to modernize and reform Nicaragua’s 1879 Penal Code, which allows for therapeutic abortions in instances where a woman’s health or wellbeing is deemed at risk by a team of medics.
The church-driven “pro-life” movement is determined to outlaw all forms of abortion under the new law, while feminist and human-rights leaders maintain that therapeutic abortion is fundamental to protecting a woman’s right to life (NT, Sept. 8).
Therapeutic abortions are legal in 189 countries, according to the United Nations. In its most basic form, therapeutic abortions are medical interventions reserved for extreme cases: rape, incest, or life-threatening health risks associated with childbirth.
In Nicaragua, Edmundo Jarquín, presidential hopeful of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), is the only candidate to come out in defense of the law.
And that position has cost him the scorn of religious groups, which have posted signs around the capital instructing people to vote against the pro-abortion candidate and claiming “Abortion is Feo” – ugly, in reference to Jarquín’s nickname, “El Feo.”
Though the momentum for public and political support appears to be on the side of the church’s massive propaganda campaign, the feminist movement remains hopeful that its appeal to science and human rights will eventually sway the tide of religious zealotry.
Marta María Blandón, feminist leader and director of reproductive rights organization IPAS Central America, says the Oct. 6 march demonstrates the efficiency of the church’s “capacity to manipulate” the uninformed masses.
“There is a very poor level of understanding of this issue,” Blandón said, adding that many people who participated in the march didn’t seem to differentiate between therapeutic abortion and abortion for reasons other than health.
Blandón argues that there will always be abortions, regardless of whether or not they are legal. By outlawing abortions, she says, the state is only putting at risk the lives of poor women who don’t have the resources to fly to Miami or pay a doctor for a discrete operation.
Blandón says the feminist movement is preparing an informative counteroffensive to educate people about therapeutic abortion, and attempt to take some of the religious overtones out of the debate.
However, she added, the movement is also working with lawyers to possibly present a case against Nicaragua in the Inter-American Human Rights Court in Costa Rica, in the event the legislature reverses the law.