The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 43           November 13, 2006  
Nicaragua’s legislature votes 52-0 to ban all abortions
(feature article)
On October 26 Nicaragua’s legislature passed a bill banning all abortions.

The measure was approved in a 52-0 vote, with 9 abstentions and 29 deputies not showing up. Representatives of both of the major parties in the National Assembly, the Liberal Alliance and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) backed the bill.

Lawmakers put off a decision on sections of the bill that includes stiff jail sentences for women undergoing abortions and anyone who helps them. A section of the legislation that would institute jail terms of up to 30 years was not passed. Currently, women who receive the medical procedure and anyone who aids them can be sentenced to up to six years in jail.

Opponents of a woman’s right to choose abortion, including leaders of the Catholic church, pushed for the bill shortly before the November 5 presidential elections.

According to Reuters, “Hundreds of people protested outside the National Assembly in the capital” against the abortion ban the day before it passed. The news service quoted protester Xiomara Luna saying, “They are forcing women and girls to die. They are not pro-life, they are pro-death.”

Earlier in October, thousands participated in an anti-abortion rally in Managua organized by church and other groups.

Previously, abortion was legal if three doctors agreed that the pregnant woman’s life would be in danger, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, and only if the woman had the consent of her spouse or other relatives.

Three of the four main presidential candidates, including Daniel Ortega, the FSLN candidate, supported the bill. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In September [Ortega] signed a declaration drafted by evangelical leaders that declared the existing abortion laws in Nicaragua are a ‘pretext to legalize all abortions.’”

The position of the FSLN leadership on abortion is consistent with its stance on the question in the mid-1980s when a public debate broke out in Nicaragua on whether to repeal a law dating back to the Somoza dictatorship barring almost all abortions. That law was left intact by the FSLN-led government, which had come to power in 1979 through a popular insurrection that toppled the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. The FSLN government adopted it despite the fact that thousands of women were dying every year or suffering serious injuries from back-alley or self-induced abortions.

At a Sept. 26, 1987, meeting held to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Sandinista-led national women’s organization, the Nicaraguan Women’s Association-Luisa Amanda Espinoza (AMNLAE), covered by Militant reporters in Nicaragua at the time, Ortega outlined this view.

Pointing to Nicaragua’s small population relative to its territory, and the “policy of genocide” that the country was being subjected to through the U.S.-sponsored contra war, Ortega said, “The ones fighting in the front lines against this aggression are young men…. One way of depleting our youth is to promote the sterilization of women in Nicaragua—just imagine what would happen then—or to promote a policy of abortion.”

Ortega continued, “The problem is that the woman is the one who reproduces. The man can’t play that role.” Some women, he said, “aspiring to be liberated,” decide not to bear children. “A woman who does so, negates her own continuity, the continuity of the human species,” he said.

The Militant reported at the time that Ortega’s remarks were met with a noticeable murmur and that a number of women went up to him at the end to express their disagreement.

A resolution adopted by the August 1990 Socialist Workers Party national convention titled, “Defend Revolutionary Nicaragua: The Eroding Foundations of the Workers and Farmers Government,” published in issue no. 9 of the Marxist magazine New International, pointed out that in early 1989 the AMNLAE leadership announced plans to introduce legislation into the National Assembly to legalize abortion, outlaw wife beating, and stiffen legal penalties against rape. By the middle of the year, however, it stated, “AMNLAE leaders had bowed to pressures by the FSLN leadership, which openly argued that raising issues such as abortion rights, wife beating or rape would—in the words of AMNLAE co-coordinator Mónica Baltodano—‘only create confusion’ and hurt the FSLN’s candidates in an ‘electoral period.’ ”

A brief declaration issued by the FSLN delegation to the Nicaraguan National Assembly Aug. 16, 2006, echoed this position.

“We are a party in favor of life,” it said. “Therefore we reaffirm our respect, promotion, development, and protection of the lives of Nicaraguan men and women… and consequently we stand against abortion.”

According to Ipas, a U.S.-based reproductive rights groups, only 24 authorized abortions have been performed in Nicaragua in the last three years, while some 32,000 illegal abortions are performed in the country each year. Maternal and infant mortality rates in Nicaragua are among the highest in the region, with abortions contributing to 16 percent of all maternal deaths.

Throughout Latin America, abortion is legal only in Cuba and Puerto Rico.  
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