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Nicaraguan abortion law update

Nicaragua's Supreme Court heard from a contingent of the Catholic Church last week as the court considers the constitutionality of a total ban on abortion passed last October.

The Catholic News Agency also carried the story Monday and has links to related stories. I last posted some thoughts on Nicaragua's abortion ban Dec. 15.

The court is expected to rule on the case sometime in May.

Since the court began considering the constitutionality of the ban in January, a variety of groups around the country have offered testimony. Doctors opposed to the ban on "therapeutic" abortions, previously legal, have weighed in; women's groups have testified; and now the Church is having its day in court.

Groups opposed to the abortion ban have staged demonstrations outside the court building. None of the reports I've read indicate that any violence has occurred on either side as the court considers the issue.

What strikes me, as an American, as particularly interesting is how expeditiously the court has moved to consider the matter--within just a couple of months of the bill's signing--and is giving all sides a chance to air their views. The court hearings seem be almost a re-debate of the ban, a debate the ban's critics complain wasn't adequate last fall when the National Assembly passed it.

Critics of the ban--including some foreign groups that do business in or operate NGOs in Nicaragua--said that the legislation was timed to coincide with national elections, and that candidates supported the bill in order to win endorsements from Church leaders.

Most Nicaraguans supported the ban, though the national obstetrical and gynecological association said it left them a legal Catch-22--liable for punishment if they let mothers die and liable for punishment if they terminated pregnancies for any reason. Church officials offered to discuss the issue with doctors, but doctors rejected the offer, saying that it amounted to a debate between religion and science.

Whatever the courts decide may encourage the National Assembly to clarify how doctors may treat women with life-threatening pregnancies in a country where not all hospitals have modern diagnostic tools, and where not all expectant mothers have quick and affordable access to any hospital at all.