Pro-Life Laws

(Link thanks to Echidne of the Snakes 2007-11-07.)

Late in October 2006, the governing male Left in Nicaragua decided to pass a strict new abortion law, which criminalized both elective abortions and so-called therapeutic abortions. There are no exceptions, not even to save a woman’s life. The legislative sell-out was calculated to help cast the Sandinista party as the party of reconciliation, and to help male revolutionary Daniel Ortega skim some votes away from the Catholic Right in his bid for the Presidency early that November. Daniel Ortega won that election. Here is who lost.

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Two weeks after Olga Reyes danced at her wedding, her bloated and disfigured body was laid to rest in an open coffin — the victim, her husband and some experts say, of Nicaragua’s new no-exceptions ban on abortion.

Here is how the pro-life government’s pro-life laws and threats of pro-life prisons killed this young woman.

Reyes, a 22-year-old law student, suffered an ectopic pregnancy. The fetus develops outside the uterus, cannot survive and causes bleeding that endangers the mother. But doctors seemed afraid to treat her because of the anti-abortion law, said husband Agustin Perez. By the time they took action, it was too late.

Nicaragua last year became one of 35 countries that ban all abortions, even to save the life of the mother, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. The ban has been strictly followed, leaving the country torn between a strong tradition of women’s rights and a growing religious conservatism. Abortion rights groups have stormed Congress in recent weeks demanding change, but President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist revolutionary and a Roman Catholic, has refused to oppose the church-supported ban.

Evangelical groups and the church say abortion is never needed now because medical advances solve the complications that might otherwise put a pregnant mother’s life at risk.

Surprisingly, quite in spite of the fact that evangelical groups and the church apparently know more about an individual woman’s emergency medical needs than either the woman herself or her gynecologist, the results of this pro-life law have been somewhere between 3 and 15 women needlessly dead.

But at least three women have died because of the ban, and another 12 reported cases will be examined, said gynecologist and university researcher Eliette Valladares, who is working with the Pan American Health Organization to analyze deaths of pregnant women recorded by Nicaragua’s Health Ministry.

… Law student Reyes was one of the three confirmed fatalities. She knew something was horribly wrong, and went with her husband to their small town’s medical center. They were sent to Bertha Calderon maternity hospital, more than an hour away in Managua. There, Perez said, Reyes was given a cursory exam, sent home and told to return the next day.

By that time, the bleeding and cramping were worse. Perez said he rushed her to a hospital in nearby Leon, but after she had an ultrasound that confirmed her condition, they left her bent over and in agony for hours in a waiting room. When a doctor at a shift change saw her condition, she was rushed into surgery. She suffered three heart attacks and an exploratory surgery.

Valladares said doctors should have acted quicker.

They knew she had a limited amount of time before she bled out. The whole world knows that with an ectopic pregnancy, Valladares said. They didn’t treat her, out of fear.

The hospital director, Olga Maria de Chavez, said Reyes arrived late at night, and was told to return the next morning when specialists were available. The doctors who handled her case in Leon refused to talk to The Associated Press.

Walter Mendiata, president of Nicaragua’s Association of Gynecologists and a supporter of the abortion ban, said doctors are taking the new law too far. He argues that surgery for an ectopic pregnancy isn’t the same as carrying out an abortion.

There’s no discussion in a case like that, he said. It’s urgent, and you operate.

But he acknowledged that many doctors fear they will be accused of performing an abortion, which could mean a license suspension and several years in prison, even though no one has yet been prosecuted.

Some doctors privately admit to carrying out what they believe are illegal procedures, while others say they won’t jeopardize their careers.

Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die, said Dr. Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine.

— Traci Carl, Lansing State Journal (2007-11-05): In Nicaragua, doctors say no-exceptions abortion ban causing deaths

Here is something I said a few years ago, comparing a recent shooting in an abortion clinic to the progress of anti-abortion legislation:

Now, you might think that it’s unfair of me to sit here pinning the actions of one abusive boyfriend on the anti-abortion movement as a whole—but how are Jeffrey Fitzhenry’s actions different in any salient respect from the legal action that pro-life laws are pushing pro-life prosecutors to take in Macomb County? Enforcing laws that stop young women from obtaining medical abortions means stationing armed men who are ready to shoot you in the neck to keep you from getting an abortion. Enforcing laws that punish women for getting an unauthorized abortion means using violence against young women who try to get one through other means. The fact that the abusive sociopath wears a suit and works in Congress does not make it any different. The fact that the shooting is done by men with badges does not make it any different. The fact that any complaints against the men who shoot you will be dismissed by men in black robes does not make it any different. The only difference is that Jeffrey Fitzhenry is only one sociopath, with only one woman as his target. The pro-life state would be a sociopath with armies at its disposal, with all young women as its targets.

In Nicaragua, as in the U.S., they are building a culture of life at the barrel of a gun.

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