Nicaraguan women dying for the pro-life cause

// 8 October 2007

The Guardian today has a report on the devastating impact of Nicaragua’s new abortion laws.

For those not in the know, last November Nicaragua joined Chile and El Salvador as the only countries in the world to have a blanket ban on abortion under any circumstances, even when the life of the woman is in danger:

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups. “This new law intentionally denies women access to health services essential to saving their lives, and is thus inconsistent with Nicaragua’s obligations under international human rights law,” says Human Rights Watch.

Amongst these 82 women is María de Jesús González:

During a visit to Managua in February she felt unwell and visited a hospital. The news was devastating. She was pregnant – and it was ectopic, meaning the foetus was growing outside the womb and not viable. The longer González remained pregnant, the greater the risk of rupture, haemorrhaging and death.

What González did next was – when you understand what life in Nicaragua is like these days – utterly rational. She walked out of the hospital, past the obstetrics and gynaecological ward, past the clinics and pharmacies lining the avenues, packed her bag, kissed her aunts goodbye, and caught a bus back to her village. She summoned two neighbouring women – traditional healers – and requested that they terminate the pregnancy in her shack. Without anaesthetic or proper instruments it was more akin to mutilation than surgery, but González insisted. The haemhorraging was intense, and the agony can only be imagined. It was in vain. Maria died. “We heard there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain,” says Esperanza Zeledon, 52, one of the Managua aunts.

González was told at the hospital that any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face two to three years in jail and she, for consenting, would face one to two years. “Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence,” says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. “Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die.”

Even Pope Benedict XVI has stated that whilst he welcomes the ban in principle, women should not suffer or die as a result. Even the Pope doesn’t approve.

Amongst those who may soon become statistics is an eleven-year-old rape victim who is now 27 weeks pregnant. I don’t think that requires further comment.

For anyone who wants some further reading about this, Human Rights Watch have produced a report entitled Over Their Dead Bodies.

As for myself, I’m going to be in Nicaragua over Christmas, and there’s an angry Spanish slogan t-shirt with my name on it.

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