Nicaragua will likely ban abortion today. Leaders in the Catholic Church have helped to draft and promote the new law, which outlaws abortion even to save the life of the pregnant woman. Women who have abortions, and people who perform them, could face up to 30 years in prison.
The current Nicaraguan abortion law (fyi, link is in Spanish) allows for a rape and life exception, and gives abortion providers a maximum of 10 years in prison.
“The current law allows a small door in which abortions can be performed, and we are trying to close that door,” said Dr. Rafael Cabrera, an obstetrician and leader of the Yes to Life Movement. “We don’t believe a child should be destroyed under the pretext that a woman might die.”
Only 24 legal abortions were performed in Nicaragua last year — compared to an estimated 32,000 illegal ones. World-wide, a woman dies every six minutes from an illegal abortion (includes a graphic, disturbing photo and is probably not work-safe). Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures in the world — 46 million abortions are performed every year. Almost half of them (20 million) are illegal. Every year, approximately 80,000 of the women who have illegal abortions in unsafe conditions die from complications of the procedure. Thousands more are injured, maimed, and treated like criminals for exercising their right to bodily autonomy.
Of course, we know which laws kill women and which ones don’t. Conservatives here and abroad, however, are taking us down a dangerous path which values fetal life over the lives of born women — and does almost nothing to lower the abortion rate. Just consider which countries have the highest rates of abortion, and which have the lowest. Brazil, for example, has a higher abortion rate than the United States (which is notably high), even though the procedure is illegal there. In many Scandanavian and other European nations, abortion is widely accessible and free — and yet, because of comprehensive sex education and birth control access, they have the lowest abortion rates in the world. Another example:
Rumania provides a unique case study of the factors that influence the use of unsafe abortion: in 1966 legal abortion was restricted and the abortion-related maternal mortality rate increased sharply, ten times higher than the average for the rest of Europe; in 1989 abortion was again made available on request and the number of maternal deaths fell sharply. By contrast the Netherlands has the lowest reported abortion rate because of a non-restrictive abortion law within a comprehensive framework that includes universal sex education in schools and easily accessible family planning services and the provision of emergency contraception. Of the 29,266 abortions performed there in 1997, the complication rate for first trimester treatments was 0,3% with no resulting deaths whatsoever.
But it’s not about the woman’s life, or even preventing abortion. It’s about asserting social control over and through women’s bodies. And it’s not just in Nicagragua.
In the United States, Oregonians and Californians are considering anti-choice legislation that would mandate parental notification for minors seeking to have abortions. I wrote about this earlier, but it’s important to note that in Oregon, the law states that minors aged 15 and up do not have to notify their parents for any type of healthcare (thanks to Rachel at the ACLU for clueing me in to this!). Measure 43 (the Oregon bill) would single out abortion as the one procedure that young women have to inform their parents about — and it puts some of those young women in harm’s way. Additionally, Measure 43 offers no exception for rape or incest — so a young woman who was impregnated by her father would have to notify him that she’s terminating the pregnancy.
Are limits on abortion the same as outright bans? Of course not. But they come from the same ideological place — and you can bet that if anti-choicers thought they could pass a law in this country banning all abortion, they’d do it in a heartbeat.
And of course we have South Dakota, which I’m not even going to bother to explain.
We hear a lot of talk these days about “modernism” and certain communities living “in the dark ages.” We see women’s rights trotted out as an excuse to invade foreign nations. And yet the same people who are quick to hold up certain religions as backwards and inherently misogynist are the same people who will embrace backwards, misogynist legislation in this country. They’re the same people who will support, draft and financially back laws like Nicaragua’s, and who wish the world looked more like El Salvador. Conservatives world-wide, including our own President and the leaders of the Catholic Church, are at best complicit in — and are at worst at fault for — the deaths and injuries of millions of women. The Nicagraguan law is an unfortunate example of their ideal: Women and doctors positioned as criminals, women stripped of their reproductive rights and facing injury or death for daring the exercise them, and women being legally positioned as less valuable than their fetuses.
But it’s all about “life,” right?
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