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Vol. 75/No. 31      September 5, 2011

Nicaraguan gov’t and bishops
uphold abortion ban
Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and the Catholic Church hierarchy have rejected any change in the law that denies women the right to choose abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s health.

The president “is in favor of life. We have internalized truth, the teachings of faith, of Christianity,” said Rosario Murillo August 2. Murillo is Ortega’s campaign manager in the upcoming elections, and also his wife. Her comments were reported in Managua’s El Nuevo Diario, which recounted similar statements by prominent Catholic bishops.

Nicaragua is one of a tiny handful of countries that ban abortion under all circumstances, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Women obtaining abortions face up to two years in jail, and abortion providers can be sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Nicaragua has a very high maternal death rate—170 per 100,000—while the average in the region is 99 per 100,000. Many of these deaths are due to illegal abortions done under unsanitary conditions.

Days before Murillo’s statement, an Amnesty International delegation visited the country to press for legalization of abortion in cases of the mother’s health, rape, or incest. They asked to meet with the five presidential candidates of the country’s main political parties in the November elections. While none of the candidates favors lifting the abortion ban, Ortega, running on the Sandinista National Liberation Front ticket, was the only one to refuse.

During the November 2006 presidential elections, representatives of the FSLN and other bourgeois parties in Nicaragua’s National Assembly tightened restrictions on the right to abortion, which at the time was allowed for a few medical reasons.

The fight for women’s right to choose became an issue in Nicaragua after the FSLN-led revolution in 1979 that overthrew the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship. Women played a leading role in the revolution and entered more deeply into the workforce and politics. By the mid-1980s growing numbers saw the ban on most abortions, carried over from the Somoza era, to be in contradiction with the revolution’s goals of ending exploitation and inequality. A public debate opened.

The FSLN government at the time refused any change in the law. Ortega explained why at a 1987 meeting marking the 10th anniversary of the Sandinista-led national women’s organization, covered by Militant reporters in Nicaragua at the time.

Ortega sought to rationalize this position by pointing to the U.S.-sponsored counterrevolutionary war and its impact on Nicaragua’s small population. “The ones fighting in the front lines against this aggression are young men,” he said. “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.”

“The problem is that the woman is the one who reproduces. The man can’t play that role,” Ortega continued. 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.”

This stance was one registration of the FSLN leadership’s growing abandonment of the revolutionary government’s proletarian course in the early years following the overthrow of Somoza. The workers and farmers government had begun to take far-reaching measures in the interests of the producing majority. By the mid-1980s, however, the FSLN leadership began retreating from mobilizing working people to fight for their interests. Instead, it relied more and more on alliances with sections of the capitalist class. The current FSLN leadership has sought to carve out for itself a place in capitalist ruling circles, and to use its political influence to expand lucrative business interests as well.

FSLN leaders have allied with figures in the Catholic Church hierarchy, including some like retired Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo who were staunch opponents of the revolution in the 1980s. Obando y Bravo was even invited this year to open the celebration of the 32nd anniversary of the triumph of the 1979 revolution.

“We are very happy that both the evangelical and Catholic churches and the state closed rank in defense of life,” said Monsignor Bismarck Carballo, another outspoken opponent of the revolution.  
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