A culture of death in Nicaragua

One of the chilling effects of the new abortion ban is that doctors are afraid to do their jobs.

Published November 22, 2006 4:54PM (EST)

The worst result of Nicaragua's recently enacted total abortion ban occurred at the beginning of this month, even before the ban became law, when Jazmina Bojorge bled to death at a public hospital in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua due to complications from pregnancy. Bojorge, who was in her late teens, died of internal bleeding after doctors failed to intervene because they were afraid to abort her 5-month-old fetus. The hospital is now investigating Bojorge's death, for which the doctors could be held responsible. Efrain Toruño, president of the Nicaraguan Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, predicts such cases will become more frequent and complicated under the new law, since "if a woman arrives at a hospital with vaginal bleeding, doctors will be afraid to treat her or to leave her alone, fearing prosecution either way."

Until last week, a Nicaraguan woman could obtain an abortion if it appeared the fetus had severe birth defects, if she was the victim of rape or incest, or if three doctors agreed her life was in peril, but under the new law, even these exceptions are no longer possible. In a country where an estimated 30,000 women seek clandestine abortions each year, national medical associations predict that the new ban will lead to an increase in the rate of mortality from unsafe abortions. Though incoming President Daniel Ortega supports the ban, Women's eNews reports that opponents plan "to seek a legal injunction before Nicaragua's Supreme Court, based on constitutional and medical arguments," and are preparing a case for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington as well.

In an ironic twist, this law that supposedly supports the "culture of life" could wind up not only causing thousands of unnecessary deaths but also scaring women away from becoming pregnant altogether. Eripcea Chavez had an emergency abortion two months into her pregnancy when doctors discovered the fetus was forming outside the uterus, rupturing a fallopian tube and causing severe internal bleeding. She has two children from a previous marriage and would like another but worries that the same thing will happen. She told Women's eNews, "I would like to try again, but I'm afraid to get pregnant. That operation saved my life."

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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