The net result has been avoidable deaths

Human Rights Watch did a big report in 2007 on Nicaragua’s total ban on abortions, including those to save the woman’s life, and its predictable results.

Nicaragua is one of only three countries in the world to maintain a blanket ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.[1]Such blanket abortion bans are incompatible with international human rights obligations, including obligations on the rights to life, health, and non-discrimination. Their imposition can, and most often does, have serious effects on the lives and health of women and girls.

Nicaragua’s blanket ban on abortion was initially enacted in November 2006 and reaffirmed in September 2007, and includes a ban on previously-legal therapeutic abortions.[2]It allows for prison sentences for doctors who carry out abortions under any circumstances-even to save a pregnant woman’s life-and on women who seek abortions, again, regardless of the reason. Although it appears that actual prosecutions are rare, the ban has very real consequences that fall into three main categories:

  1. Denial of access to life- or health-saving abortion services;
  2. Denial or delay in access to other obstetric emergency care; and
  3. A pronounced fear of seeking treatment for obstetric emergencies.

The net result has been avoidable deaths.

It’s hard to think of a more thorough dismissal of women as people than this – a law forbidding hospitals and doctors to save the lives of women if their pregnancies are killing them.

At that point there had been no prosecutions that HRW or its informants knew of, but the fear of prosecution was having a terrible effect all the same.

It is impossible to ascertain how many women the blanket ban has prevented from accessing safe therapeutic abortion services and with what effect. Nicaragua’s Health Ministry officials told Human Rights Watch that they did not have any official documentation of the effects of the blanket ban and no plans for gathering such documentation.[18]

A medical doctor at a large public hospital in Managua, however, testified to one case:

Here [at this hospital] we have had women who have died. For example, [name withheld] came here and had an ultrasound. It was clear that she needed a therapeutic abortion. No one wanted to carry out the abortion because the fetus was still alive. The woman was here two days without treatment until she expulsed the fetus on her own. And by then she was already in septic shock and died five days later. That was in March 2007.[19]

Her life doesn’t matter, apparently.

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