When women don’t have access to abortion services, their lives are in jeopardy.
This truth has been abundantly clear in Nicaragua, where a total abortion ban has denied necessary treatment to women and girls and backed medical professionals into a corner. A bill passed by the Nicaraguan National Assembly in October 2006, which came into force a year ago, criminalized all instances of abortion—including to save the life of the pregnant woman.
This week, a new Amnesty International report adds evidence that the Nicaraguan abortion ban directly contravenes international human rights standards. Women seeking to end a pregnancy are left with no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term or to have an unsafe, illegal abortion. This includes women and girls who have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, putting them through unnecessary additional trauma.
What’s more, doctors and other medical professionals have been forced into an untenable position. The new law includes prison sentences for health workers who cause even unintentional harm in the course of treatment. So a doctor treating a woman for a life-threatening pregnancy complication, miscarriage or other illness runs the risk of jail time, creating a perverse incentive to deny necessary medical treatment.
Following the 2006 decision by the National Assembly, MADRE partnered with a coalition of organizations to confront the abortion ban. These organizations included the Autonomous Women’s Movement (Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres-MAM), a Nicaraguan women’s rights organization; the Center for Constitutional Rights (Centro de Derechos Constitucionales); and the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at CUNY School of Law.
Together, this coalition worked to present this case before international human rights bodies, to demonstrate the real impact of the ban on women’s lives and to illustrate that the ban violates human rights standards. In October 2008, MADRE Program Coordinator Natalia Caruso traveled to Geneva with members of the coalition to present a shadow report before the UN Human Rights Committee.
In May 2009, the case was again presented before the UN Committee against Torture, showing that denying women access to necessary medical care constitutes a form of torture.
In both instances, the committees found that the total abortion ban violated international standards on women’s human rights and called for the Nicaraguan government to reform this law. But until this ban is finally revoked, Nicaraguan women will continue to pay the price with their lives.
To read the Amnesty report, “The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua,” click here.
*Cross-posted on myMADRE.