Friday, October 27, 2006


Nicaragua OKs draconian abortion bill before election

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Nicaraguan lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that bans abortions for rape victims and women who risk dying in childbirth in a tactical vote little more than a week before a tense presidential election.

The measure was approved with the support of reluctant left-wing legislators who backed it to help their party's leader, Daniel Ortega, a former Cold War foe of the United States, sweep back to power in the November 5 election.

Nicaragua's powerful Roman Catholic Church and the ruling Liberal Party promoted the bill and Ortega's Sandinista Party fell into line to avoid alienating church leaders and religious voters in the last days of a tight campaign. The new measure would put Nicaragua alongside nations like Chile and El Salvador in imposing a blanket ban.

The reform proposals included prison terms of up to 20 or 30 years for women -- and their doctors -- who terminate a pregnancy. But legislators put off a vote on that issue, meaning the current maximum sentence of six years for illegal abortions will stand.

Barring a veto from President Enrique Bolanos, who had been pushing for a longer prison term, the law will take effect in 30 days.

Under existing, century-old law, abortions are allowed for women who are victims of rape and incest or whose lives are in danger.

Medical associations and women's groups campaigned against the proposed reforms and, with the Central American country locked in a fierce debate, senior U.N. officials had called on lawmakers to think carefully before voting.

"The new penal code doesn't just go against basic human rights, it goes against fundamental principles of humanity," New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

"Human Rights Watch knows from experience what it generally means to be pregnant as the result of rape, or to have an unsafe abortion: misery, desperation, and even the death of the pregnant woman."

Ortega, who led a 1979 revolution and fought a civil war against U.S.-backed Contra rebels throughout the 1980s, has a strong lead before the election but would face a tough runoff if he failed to win in the first round of voting.

U.S. officials worry Ortega would join an anti-U.S. bloc in Latin America led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and are backing Ortega's conservative rival, Eduardo Montealegre.

When Ortega was in power, his government reaffirmed the right to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or if three doctors stated a woman's life was at risk.

This year, Ortega has instead pushed a vague anti-abortion message on the campaign trail.


Twenty-five Sandinistas in the National Assembly supported the proposal on Thursday, although some sent their aides to cast the vote rather than do it themselves. The party's 13 other lawmakers stayed away from the session, where the bill was passed in a 52-0 vote.

Hundreds of people protested outside the National Assembly in the capital, Managua, on Wednesday night, saying the law would be a death sentence for the some 400 women who suffer ectopic pregnancies in Nicaragua each year. In an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus.

"They are forcing women and girls to die. They are not pro-life, they are pro-death," said protester Xiomara Luna.

Conservative lawmaker Delia Arellano said, "Murder is murder, and even more so when it is against an innocent who can't say, "Don't kill me", who can't say anything from inside the mother's womb."

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COMMENT: What utter arch-reactionary horsesh!t ! (I wonder if the Nazi Pope will issue some more Papal bull…?)


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