Nicaraguan abortion law update
I recently posted some observations about Nicaragua’s new abortion measure here and here. Some readers felt those observations were premature since I did not have the exact wording of the law. That is now available at Nicaragua’s National Assembly site. It’s pretty straightforward:
Article 165 of the penal code is overturned (Artículo 1.- Se deroga el arto. 165 del Código Penal Vigente) and the law will be entered in the assembly’s official record (Artículo 2.- La presente Ley entrará en vigencia a partir de su publicación en La Gaceta, Diario Oficial.)
Article 165, now void, said that a “therapeutic” abortion must be approved by at least three doctors and be consented to by the husband or woman’s next of kin. (Artículo 165.- El aborto terapéutico será determinado científicamente, con la intervención de tres facultativos por lo menos, y el consentimiento del cónyuge o pariente más cercano a la mujer, para los fines legales.)
The law passed the assembly unanimously, though the nation’s association of gynecologists and obstetricians objected that the law makes it unclear about how they are to handle life-threatening pregnancies especially in public hospitals where adequate diagnostic equipment is lacking. If they treat a woman with an ectopic pregnancy, for instance, will they be charged with performing an abortion? If they fail to treat the pregnancy and the woman dies, will they be charged with negligent homicide?
It should be noted that the actual number of therapeutic abortions performed or reported under Article 165 in Nicaragua is hard to determine. Reports I’ve read estimate them at anywhere from six to more than 1,000. The total number of abortions each year is estimated at 30,000.
A different approach to the the abortion problem might have been to strengthen the enforcement of Article 165. Or to more closely define “therapeutic,” which seems to have been construed as anything from from saving the life of the mother, ending pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or aborting babies carrying birth defects.
As far as I can see, the current Nicaraguan law simply muddies the waters for doctors and does not reflect the Church’s teaching on abortion–which recognizes that medical treatment is allowable in some life-threatening pregnancies–nor its concern for the health and welfare of poor women.