Last Thursday night I had the privilege of celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of the September 28th Campaign to Decriminalize Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean side by side with members of the Nicaraguan women's movement, who were gathered at the Rotonda de la Plaza Inter here in Managua for a candlelight vigil. The September 28th Campaign was born in Argentina in 1990 at the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting, out of an urgent need to shed light on the public health crisis of unsafe abortion in Latin America. The campaign's rotating headquarters are currently located here in Nicaragua, where sex ed is practically non-existent, access to contraception is scarce, and the women's movement is in the midst of fighting a total ban on abortion.
Currently, the only way to get a legal abortion in Nicaragua is to go before a panel of three doctors (usually all male), and request a "therapeutic" abortion. Therapeutic abortions are only granted in extreme circumstances-for example, if the pregnancy threatens the woman's life, or if it was a result of rape or incest-and the process of obtaining one has been known, conveniently, to take longer than the human gestation period. Many Nicaraguan women are not even aware that they have the right to seek therapeutic abortions, so as a result, few women request them (in 2004, only 20 women did). On the other hand, an estimated 36,000 Nicaraguan women opt for unsafe, illegal abortions every year. Many don't survive the procedure, and countless others are left with lifelong health problems.
In response to this situation, anti-abortion leaders in Nicaragua have decided that it's high time to impose FURTHER restrictions on the already negligible right to safe abortion (since the restrictive laws are already such an effective deterrent for the 36,000 women who seek unsafe abortions every year). They've set their sights on the therapeutic abortion provision, and are aiming to eliminate it from the penal code by the end of the year-which would make Nicaragua's abortion law even stricter than South Dakota's.
Here in Managua, the full frontal assault on fact has begun. Anti-abortion posters and ads featuring an image of Jesus on his knees with a tiny fetus in his hand, and the slogan "In the Name of Christ, Please Don't Kill Me Mommy!" have gone up all over the city, in preparation for an anti-abortion march that will take place here on October 6th. La Prensa, one of Nicaragua's major daily newspapers, has been dutifully reprinting the anti-abortion movement's reckless rhetoric all month. A selection:
- LIE #1: Life-threatening pregnancies don't exist. Any high-risk pregnancy will naturally end in a miscarriage, with no risk to the mother.
- LIE #2: According to Dr. Álvaro Lacayo, director of the Institute of Neurology and Human Development, "One hundred percent of women who seek abortions will suffer, at some point in their lives, severe depression, insomnia, weight loss, loss of appetite, and the lack of a will to live."
- LIE #3: The most common form of abortion is "abortion for convenience," defined in a La Prensa editorial as "destroying the life of an unborn baby in the maternal womb ‘simply' because the birth is inconvenient for a mother, who considers it a nuisance that would prevent her from studying, working, or getting a boyfriend, or simply because she wouldn't be able to care for it."
Because everyone knows that women only have abortions because they're selfish, especially in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where the average income is $2 a day, education and employment opportunities are few and far between, and quality health care comes with a price tag that few citizens can afford.
In other news, presidential candidate frontrunners Daniel Ortega (of the left-wing Sandinista party) and Eduardo Montealegre (of the right-wing Liberal party) have both openly declared their support for the elimination of the therapeutic abortion provision, which would make abortion illegal under any and all circumstances in Nicaragua. Luckily, life-threatening pregnancies don't really exist (like Colombian Marta Gonzalez's), women are always left bereft by abortion (like all of these women), and women generally abort for convenience (like this 11-year-old Colombian girl who was raped by her stepfather, or this 13-year-old Nicaraguan girl who was raped in Costa Rica in 2003). Because otherwise, Nicaraguan women would be in a pretty tight spot.