In Nicaragua, Activists Say Abortion Ban Has Claimed Its First Victim

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 29, 2006

The Washington Post yesterday ran a front-page story about Nicaragua’s total ban on abortion. Opponents of the law say that it has already claimed its first victim, though a hospital official insists that the woman’s death, which remains under investigation, “has nothing to do with the abortion law.” N.C. Aizenman writes:

Jazmina Bojorge arrived at Managua’s Fernando Vélez Paiz Hospital on a Tuesday evening, nearly five months pregnant and racked with fever and abdominal pain. By the following Thursday morning, both the pretty 18-year-old and the female fetus in her womb were dead.

The mystery of what happened during the intervening 36 hours might not ordinarily have catapulted Bojorge into the headlines of a nation with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere.

But a week before her death on Nov. 2, Nicaragua’s legislature had voted to ban all abortions, eliminating long-standing exceptions for rape, malformation of the fetus and risk to the life or health of the mother. Now, outraged opponents of the legislation have declared Bojorge its first victim.

“It’s clear that fear of punishment kept the doctors from doing what they needed to do to save her — which was to abort the pregnancy immediately,” said Juanita Jiménez of the Women’s Autonomous Movement, an advocacy group that is leading the campaign to reverse the ban. “This is exactly what we warned would happen if this law was passed. We’ve been taken back to the Middle Ages.”

In addition to taking a close look at Nicaragua’s ban on abortions, Aizenman also discusses the move toward more restrictive abortion laws in neighboring countries. Access to abortion has been severely curtailed throughout Latin America, despite the fact that abortion laws are becoming more liberalized in other parts of the world.

In Nicaragua, women’s rights advocates and medical groups are hoping Nicaragua’s highest court will declare the ban unconstitutional. If a petition to the court doesn’t work, “activists who oppose the ban say they will take their case to an international body such the U.N. Human Rights Committee or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — with Bojorge’s relatives the likely plaintiffs,” writes Aizeman.

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