Is it possible for a country to have been more progressive in 1893 than it is today?
Based on last week’s legislative setback for women’s rights here, 19th Century Nicaragua is starting to appear like a First-World Country.
For a nation that is trying desperately to slog its way out of under development and move into the future,Nicaragua has taken a giant step backwards by outlawing therapeutic abortion – a 113-year-old legal guarantee allowing women an abortion to save their lives, or to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.
If signed into law by President Enrique Bolaños, as expected,Nicaragua would become one of a handful of countries in the world to allow a woman to die at childbirth. And if doctors try to intervene to save the mother’s life, they could face eight years in jail, along with the woman.
Feminists and human-rights groups around the world are outraged. And rightly so.
For a country with one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in Latin America, and where sex with minors is outlawed, the government should seek to enforce laws that punish offenders, rather than punish victims.
Pregnant girls – and in Nicaragua, there are plenty – must be granted the basic right to a therapeutic abortion to save their lives; their small bodies are simply not developed enough to give birth to another small body.
When an adult rapes and impregnates a child, why should the victim have to face possible death – or a childhood and life unfulfilled – on top of the trauma of innocence stolen? To make matters worse, the perpetrators often go unpunished.
In cases of incest or women with a life-threatening disease, why shouldn’t the mother’s rights be protected?
After all, therapeutic abortions are not exactly the “morning-after pill.” It is a procedure reserved for extreme cases.
Before the Nicaraguan Catholic Church or President Bolaños seek to condemn women by winding back the clocks on a century-old legislative advance, they should analyze and reevaluate the religious and ethical teachings that have led them to believe they are morally correct.
It is not acceptable to let a woman die to give birth to a motherless child. What guarantees are there that the child will live if the mother is left to die? And why is the life of an unborn baby more important than the life of a born-and-living woman or child?
The 52 lawmakers who voted for this legislative reform, as well as the 37 who abstained or hid in their homes too afraid to show up and vote, will share responsibility for the future deaths of women in childbirth.
While pandering to the religious zealots during an election year, Nicaraguan politicians have achieved nothing toward their stated ends of preventing abortions here.
All lawmakers have done is drive the industry underground, making it more dangerous for poor women at the hands of back-ally profiteers. Rich Nicaraguans can always fly to Miami.
The women’s movement, with the help of progressive-minded international-rights groups, has tried its best to stand up to the machinery of the church.
But in the end, it was religion that prevailed over science.
Bolaños’ government, dubbed “The New Era,” boldly claims:“Nicaragua is Advancing.”
That’s a hard thing to do for a country whose pant leg is being tugged back toward the days of The Inquisition.