The new law, introduced in 2008, makes abortion a criminal offence in all circumstances and provides for lengthy prison sentences for women and girls who seek an abortion and for health professionals who provide them. It allows no exceptions. It applies in situations where continued pregnancy risks the life or health of the woman or girl, and when the pregnancy is the result of rape. Even a pregnancy that cannot possibly result in a viable baby has to be carried to term.
The law goes even further. Medical treatment which results in the unintentional death or injury of a foetus is a criminal offence, regardless of the intention of the medical professionals concerned or the circumstances. Doctors who act to save a patient from dying as a result of obstetric complications risk their career and possibly their liberty. Examples of such interventions include treatment for malaria or HIV/AIDs, urgent cardiac surgery or intervention in a complicated birth. Even health care providers trying to save the foetus during a difficult delivery which results in the injury or death of the foetus can be prosecuted. A pregnant woman with cancer has to have the baby first, then treatment for the cancer, no matter what the risk to her survival.
And it goes further yet. Amnesty reports the law may punish girls and women who have suffered a miscarriage as it is often impossible to distinguish spontaneous from induced abortions.
And yet further. According to Amnesty, "Women human rights defenders have been subjected to legal harassment and accused of the public defence of a crime (apología del delito) for campaigning for therapeutic abortion. This legal harassment has caused some fear on the part of others, such as doctors and nurses, and discouraged them from becoming too actively involved in campaigning on the issue. "
Kate Gilmore, Amnesty International's executive deputy secretary general, states, "There is only one way to describe what we have seen in Nicaragua ‑ sheer horror. Children are being compelled to bear children. Pregnant women are being denied essential life saving medical care."
The rape statistics lay out some of the horror to which Ms. Gilmore refers. Seventy-seven per cent of rape cases in Nicaragua involve girls under 17. Between 2005 and 2007, sixteen per cent of those crimes resulted in pregnancy, and the great majority were in girls of between 10 and 14. Wealthy women may, however, be spared the horror. It is an open secret that many well-off families send female relatives to Cuba for the procedure.
The question is why a government led by Daniel Ortega would pass such legislation. Although Nicaragua is overwhelmingly Catholic, the government is independent and secular, and Ortega is a socialist whose first term as president from 1985 to 1990 saw almost a third of executive positions occupied by women. We can only conclude that Ortega decided achieving victory in the 2006 election made a necessity out of betraying women to a misogynistic Church. Sacrificing young women to the gods has a long history in Latin America. The tradition continues.