Nicaragua's total abortion ban

The country's abortion policy goes from "illegal, with rare exceptions" to "illegal, with no exceptions."

Published October 27, 2006 9:20PM (EDT)

Here in the U.S., progressive legislators may be reluctant to oppose draconian anti-terror legislation or support same-sex marriage close to an election, for fear of jeopardizing their chances at the polls. In Nicaragua this week, the same fear apparently motivated nine legislators to abstain from the country's vote on abortion, and a further 29 to skip the vote entirely. (The country's presidential election is slated for Nov. 5.) As was widely anticipated, Nicaragua's National Assembly outlawed all abortions in the country, by a vote of 52-0.

It's not like reproductive choice was running rampant in Nicaragua up until now. Abortions are already illegal in the country; it's just that the country currently makes rare exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and cases in which the mother's life is in danger. To determine that a mother's life is sufficiently endangered to warrant an abortion, three doctors have to agree on the threat to her health; the New York Times reports that the strict standards mean that the number of legal abortions that take place each year is in the single digits. Now, Nicaragua will become one of three countries in the Western Hemisphere -- the other two being Chile and El Salvador -- in which abortion is illegal under all circumstances. (Most other countries in Latin America forbid abortion, too, but allow exceptions in rare cases.)

High-ranking members of the country's Roman Catholic Church, which heavily promoted the new legislation, were allowed to sit in on the vote. By contrast, "women's rights activists were physically barred from entering," Feminist Daily Newswire reports.

Unless fervently anti-choice Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos decides to veto the legislation -- which is beyond unlikely -- the law will take effect in 30 days. (The landscape isn't likely to change after Nov. 5, either -- only one of the four leading presidential candidates opposes the new ban, and he's neither the front-runner nor the one getting White House backing, according to the Times.) An estimated 32,000 of the country's women already undergo illegal, and frequently unsafe, abortions every year; unfortunately, it doesn't look like that number will be dwindling anytime soon.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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