National Catholic Register


Life Wins Big In Nicaragua

National Assembly outlaws all abortions


Latin America Correspondent

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM


MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The White House is worried about the return to power of Daniel Ortega. The fear is that the former communist, who won Nicaragua’s Nov. 5 presidential election, could prompt a leftward lurch.

Only time will tell if those fears are justified. But there’s already one reason to believe Ortega’s claim that he has moderated his radical beliefs. Despite intense international pressure — and even threats from countries like Sweden to discontinue financial aid — Ortega has strongly supported a recent decision by the Nicaraguan National Assembly to make Nicaragua one of only three countries in the world where all forms of abortion are illegal.

Nicaragua’s National Assembly Oct. 25 approved a change to the nation’s penal code eliminating exceptions made for so-called “therapeutic” abortion. The penal code, which dates to 1891, had allowed for abortion in cases of rape and incest.

The revision of the penal code has been underway since 1992, when several Nicaraguan attorneys presented a draft of a new code. The draft, made with the advice of a Spanish team of socialist lawyers, included the legalization of abortion and euthanasia.

In 1998, the draft went to the National Assembly, which started a long process of debating and voting on each article.

In 2000, when the article related to abortion was discussed, Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, then Archbishop of Managua, headed a march of 20,000 pro-life activists, forcing the assembly to suspend the discussion and concentrate on other articles.

But by early 2006, the entire new code was approved, with the exception of the hot issue of abortion.

By late September, an opinion poll showed that more than 80% of Nicaraguans opposed any form of abortion.

Moreover, a massive pro-life demonstration of more than 100,000 people, in which for the first time Catholics and evangelicals marched together, convinced all major Nicaraguan parties that the wise thing to do on the eve of national elections was to vote pro-life.

They did. Article 165 of the revised Nicaraguan Penal Code now establishes that so-called “therapeutic” abortion will be penalized like any other abortion and bear a sentence from one to 10 years of incarceration.

The measure has gone before President Enrique Bolaños, who has voiced forceful support for the change in the past.

Despite massive pro-life support domestically, members of the National Assembly had to resist significant international pressure.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has been promoting abortion around Latin America, threatened the Nicaraguan National Assembly by saying that the penalization of abortion would put the country at odds with unspecified “international treaties.”

“The new penal code doesn’t just go against basic human rights: It goes against fundamental principles of humanity,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division.

Several United Nations agencies wrote the Assembly asking to at least postpone the vote because the discussion was taking place “in a politicized environment” since it occurred on the eve of the Nov. 5 presidential elections.

Pedro Pablo Villanueva, who represents the U.N. Population Fund, said that the United Nations is “concerned for the lack of action by the country to prevent maternal mortality.”

The U.N. CEDAW committee, which monitors national compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, argued that the internationally protected “right to life” meant a right to abortion for women. The committee also criticized Nicaraguan religious leaders for being involved in their nation’s policies.

Swedish ambassador to Nicaragua Eva Zetterberg warned in a letter that the National Assembly’s decision could cause “donor countries” — a pool of European nations who grant financial aid to Nicaragua — to reconsider future donations from the European Union.

In a public statement, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, criticized the United Nations for “its interference in the free vote of a sovereign nation.”

Said Wright, “Clearly U.N. agents are abusing their position to force their ideology on democratic societies, even when the women of those societies vehemently oppose it.”

According to Daniel Zeidler, president of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, “There is no doubt that the people of Nicaragua have freely decided about their future. This is a big victory for the pro-life cause.”

Said Zeidler, “The main thrust of the pro-life arguments was to point out that the right to life includes the unborn child, and that both mother and child were to be treated equally.

“‘Therapeutic’ abortion is a misnomer,” Zeidler added. “It cannot be ‘therapeutic’ to directly kill the child. Where medical complications arise, everything appropriate must be done to try to save both lives.”

Nicaraguan pro-life leader Dr. Rafael Cabrera, an obstetrician and gynecologist, described the final debate in the National Assembly as “a real pro-life festival.”

“I heard all the arguments in favor of life and against abortion describing it as homicide ... a crime,” Cabrera said. “They also spoke strongly against (foreign) diplomats, some of whom were present, saying there couldn’t be any conditioning of loans in exchange for acceptance of anti-life policies. It was emphasized that Nicaragua was free and independent and would not accept any foreign interference that goes against our values and culture.”

“The incredible pressure from U.N. organizations, pro-abortion non-governmental organizations and European countries just show how hard it is for a small Latin American country to decide freely and democratically to ban abortion,” said Carlos Polo, Latin America director for the pro-life Population Research Institute.

According to Polo, Nicaraguan feminist organizations — with the support of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations — are now planning to take their case against the pro-life penal code provision to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Said Polo, “A significant battle has been won, but the war is not over, and pro-life Nicaraguans are aware of that.”

Alejandro Bermúdez

is based in Lima, Peru.