San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Amnesty: Nicaragua's maternal death rate increases under total abortion ban

Nicaragua´s total ban on abortions is contributing to an increase in maternal deaths across the country by denying girls and women potentially life-saving treatment, the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) reported Monday.

Thirty-three girls and women have died in pregnancy this year, up from 20 in the same period of 2008, according to official figures cited in the new AI report. The group said the number could be higher as maternal deaths in Nicaragua are often not recorded.

Sandinista and Liberal lawmakers outlawed therapeutic abortion Oct. 26, 2006, in a measure rights activists called an electoral ploy by both parties to pander to religious voters on the eve of the presidential elections.

In the lead-up to the Nov. 5 elections, Catholic and Evangelical groups ran a campaign under the banner “Abortion is murder” (NT, Nov. 3, 2006), which helped prompt four out of five candidates to come out against abortion in all forms.

The church in Managua continues to uphold a firm stance. “The doctrine of the church is clear,” Mons. Miguel Mántica, of the Archdiocese of Managua, told Catholic news wire ACI last week. “A decriminalization of therapeutic abortion means accepting the existence of difficult situations in which it´s legal to kill the innocent.”

In Nicaragua, girls and women who seek an abortion and health professionals who provide associated services can face a prison sentence for doing so – an absolute abortion ban that´s in place in only 3 percent of the world´s countries, according to AI.

The report, “The total abortion ban in Nicaragua: Women´s lives and health endangered, medical professionals criminalized,” is AI´s first study examining the implications of the denial of abortion when the life or health of a woman or girl is at risk, including when she is a victim of rape or incest, according to an AI press release.

AI leaders have called the ban a “disgrace,” because it compels rape and incest victims to bear children and denies pregnant women the care that could save their lives.

“It is a human rights scandal that ridicules medical science and distorts the law into a weapon against the provision of essential medical care to pregnant girls and women,” said Kate Gilmore, AI´s executive deputy secretary general, according to the release.

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