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Nicaragua's new abortion law

Nicaragua's law restricting />/>abortions in all cases, including those that threaten the life of the mother, was signed Friday by outgoing President Enrique Bolanos, making it official.

The AP reported that incoming president Daniel Ortega supports the measure.

AP also said that before Bolanos signed the bill, abortion was legal only if a panel of three doctors agreed a mothers life was in danger. Catholic News Service, however, reported that rape and incest were also considered legal grounds for abortion in
Nicaragua/>/> as well.

Bolanos, according to the AP, had also sought stiffer sentences for doctors who performed abortions, and a 30-year prison sentence for women who had them.

CNS said that Church leaders had sought a 20-year prison term for both doctors and women.

However, the current prison term of six years for mothers and doctors remains on the books.

I wonder what will happen to women with ectopic pregnancies, which seems to be a gray area in this law. Hard to know how many women this might affect, though 3,000 Nicaraguan women each year might be in the ballpark. (Obstetricians estimate about 2 percent of pregnancies end in ectopics. Live births in Nicaragua, according to 1999 stats, are approximtely 164,500. Two percent of the live birth rate would be 3,290).

Babies cannot survive ectopic pregnancies. Women whose ectopic pregnancies are not terminated run several risks. The woman may miscarry before the tube can rupture. This will involve only severe pain and damage to the affected tube that could affect future fertility and increase the risk of more ectopics. Or the woman's tube will rupture as the baby grows. This will result in more severe pain, destruction of the tube and the risk bleeding to death.

Is this the kind of respect-for-life policy we want to see in the U.S.? I'm just askin' ...

UPDATED Nov. 18: Joe notes in the comments that the Church allows treatment for ectopic pregnancies. Can anyone confirm that this is how Nicaragua's secular law will be construed also? If so, I'll delete my post. Otherwise, I think my question is valid and ought to raise some concerns about how well secular laws can reflect the sum total of church teaching on sanctity of life.

UDATED Nov. 19: Patrick has more recent estimated stats in the comments. Based on his comment, I re-checked and corrected my math. My stats are based on 1999 demographics, which show a population of 4.7 million and a birthrate of 35 per 1,000.



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If the bishops are influential in the country's politics, I doubt that ectopic pregnancies will pose a problem for women and doctors. I'm thinking here of the Church's teaching on the moral principle of double effect. My wife had an ectopic pregnancy which, of course, had to be removed. The purpose was to remove a medical threat, not to terminate her pregnancy.

Jean,I would like to assume that people who advocate laws outlawing all abortions are tacitly making exceptions for ectopic pregnancies, and they use the language they do because they do not describe the procedure in that case as an abortion. But to those unintiated into the principle of double effect this may seem less than straightforward. I do not know what the proposed law in Nicaragua intends. What about the law in one of the Dakotas--sorry I can't recall which--that was supposed to outlaw all abortions?. Unlike Joe I would not be confident that the bishops would take the right line or explain the principles involved effectively

It has been reported in numerous stories that rights groups in Nicaragua are concerned about the issue of ectopic pregnancies, clearly believing the law bans the standard treatment. of people protested outside the National Assembly in the capital, Managua, on Wednesday night, saying the law would be a death sentence for the some 400 women who suffer ectopic pregnancies in Nicaragua each year. In an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus."They are forcing women and girls to die. They are not pro-life, they are pro-death," said protester Xiomara Luna.

Jean,Just for the record, I think the birth statistics you cite are incorrect, more than 10 times the actual numbers.The CIA Fact book reports for Nicaragua the following:Population: 5,570,129 (July 2006 est.) Birth rate: 24.51 births/1,000 population (2006 est.) The number of births per year would then be 5,570,129 X (24.51/1000) or136,524, 2% of which is 2,730. course the moral and political issues you raise are unaffected by these recent estimates.

Allowing for the country's socioeconomic status and the news article, maybe I need to take a "wait and see" approach here. I've always taken the double effect principle for granted, but, of course, the late pope appointed a lot of reactionary bishops who, as Joseph Gannon observed, might not be so amenable to explaining (or even publicizing) this moral principle. If, as David Nickol suggests by virtue of the news link, rights groups are concerned about their government's banning the standard treatment for ectopic pregnancies, then such a move would be a bad development --- and more so if their bishops do not step forward to justify treatment fully in accord with Church teaching.

The butchery, that goes on in South America where it is against the law to have an abortion, is legendary. Of course life is so good there that people from those countries risk death to enter the US.In 1998 W Bush invited Neuhaus to Texas to inform him that he supported 'right to lifer' and wanted to make it a strong point of his campaign.' This fit beautifully into Neuhaus' and the Theocons effort to make the abortion battle the center of the theocracy they wanted to create. The election of W made Neuhaus legitimate. As a result he did not have to continue supporting an insurrection to overcome a secular government. As the women in Nicaraugua are saying: It is not pro-life it is pro-death.I would think that any theocracy that makes sense would be where one would make the imitation of the Good Samaritan into law..But that is too Christian. Let's use abortion which does not affect the the clergy and the other evangelicals.

For Information:As a layman, I found the MoJ postings on this issue interesting. In one, it was suggested that the Nicaraguan legislation might be similar to the law in San Salvador.In that case, as I understand it, the only legal treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is removal of the fallopian tube. One question, of course, is whether "standard treatment" refers to this remedy or some alternative treatment, not sanctioned by the hierarchy.As to double effect and ectopic pregnancy, I found the following MoJ posting informative, along with the related responses::

Ectopic pregnancy is complicated to diagnose and treat. Here's a link. What this law does is to impose a solution that might permit surgery (not clear) and that almost certainly subjects women to a greater risk of death and compromised fertility. It nullifies the option of medical treatment, which is frequently administered in the U.S. under circumstances in which the pregnancy is not resolving on its own (in order to avoid tubal rupture and compromised fertility). Medical management of ectopic pregnancy is not permitted under the directives to Catholic health care providers because its direct effect is to kill the fetus. All this in a context in which it is a foregone conclusion that the pregnancy is non-viable and the fetus doomed.

The difficulties here arise from the principle that one may never act directly to take an innocent life. But this principle sounds attractive but it leads to odd consequences. Take this case. X is clearly so acting as to indicate that he will cause Y's death. Z can prevent this only by killing X. Does Z need to consider whether X may be morally innocent, say, by reason of mental defect?

I found what seems to me a very clear summary of Catholic medical ethics regarding ectopic pregnancy in a downloadable pamphlet in PDF format from Catholics United for Faith."Catholic Theologians typicallydiscuss the morality of three commontreatments for ectopic pregnanciesaccording to the principleof double effect. One approach utilizesthe drug Methotrexate (MTX),which attacks the tissue cells thatconnect the embryo to its mother,causing miscarriage. A surgicalprocedure (salpingostomy) directlyremoves the embryo through an incisionin the fallopian tube wall.Another surgical procedure, calleda salpingectomy, removes all of thetube (full salpingectomy) or only thepart to which the embryo is attached(partial salpingectomy),thereby ending the pregnancy."I have been assuming (although it is nowhere clearly and explicitly stated) that although Catholic moral thinking accepts full and partial salpingectomy as licit, the Nicaraguan law bans it and the other two treatments as well. While salpingectomy may be a more radical treatment than salpingostomy or drug therapy, it would seem to be effective. So the protests would only be occurring (so I have been assuming) if salpingectomy is defined as abortion and has now become illegal.On the other hand, in various discussions elsewhere, this passage was pointed out in The New York Times on October 27:"Nicaragua now [before the full ban goes into effect] allows abortions if three doctors agree that the mother's life would be in danger. This amounted to a total of six legal abortions in 2002, the last year for which data is available. Health officials say that the number has remained in the single digits since."So if the total ban reduces the number of legal abortions from less than ten to zero, how can the change affect 400 ectopic pregnancies a year?

Respectfully, the doctrine of double effect isn't the issue in my mind.The questions raised by the Nicaraguan law are these: 1. Does the law afford women treatment for ectopic pregnancy in line with Church teaching? Or does the Nicaraguan law ignore the doctrine of double effect and simply ban treatment for ectopic pregnancy? And, if the latter, ought Church leaders, in the interest of saving mothers' lives, be encouraging lawmakers to rectify this?2. It has been argued on other posts that it is proper for Church leaders to strenuously object to secular laws that go against Church teaching about life-and-death matters, and that it may be appropriate for Church leaders to excommunicate those who support immoral laws. But to what extent should Church leaders lobby for specific secular penalties? In Nicaragua, Church leaders pushed for 20-year prison terms for women who aborted babies (though the 6-year penalty stands). Women who have abortions are automatically excommunicated. Aren't Church leaders satisfied with that? Why the need for additional secular punishment?

And if the woman already has children, what becomes of them while their mother is in prison for the next 20 years?

As I recall, surgeon removed a portion of my wife's fallopian tube. The other tube served a successful pregnancy a year or so later.

Just to give an idea of the path that Nicaragua is taking.

I agree that the linked article probably describes the de-facto situation in Nicaragua.Pass a draconian abortion law to defuse the political issue, then the elites, who can afford it, go outside the juridiction and the rest to some back alley abortionist while the police look the other way.

I am inclined to think the ectopic pregnancy argument is a red herring - basically for the same reasons stated by David Nickol. If the current law has an exception for life of the mother, and that exception is only implemented in the single digits every year, how can the removal of that exception affect an annual 400 ectopic pregnancies treated currently? The logical implication is that the current and new laws do not consider treatment for ectopic pregnancy as abortions.What matters, I suspect, is the definition of abortion under the law, and whether that definition has changed.

From what I gather about El Salvador's laws, physicians who are asked to treat ectopic or other problem pregnancies bend over backwards to diagnose the situation such that it is not viewed as a pregnancy, that, in fact the fetus is dead. Sort of like when my first speeding ticket was reclassified (per local policy) as "defective equipment." Since this kind of practice might also be prevalent in Nicaragua, it would almost certainly skew any official reports, and any purported analysis by "outsiders" of what is really happening or the potential impact of the law, would be basically useless.Ectopic pregnancies are not common but the unnuanced view of their medical treatment and resolution helps to underscore the incredibly low regard that is held for women's lives, in contrast to all the "situational ethics" that are encouraged when it comes time for analyzing the justice of war and the death of innocent civilians. Politicians and princes must be appeased, but to paraphrase John Lennon's rude statement, women are the n***ers of the world.

I agree with Antonio; this law is draconian. Among the victims, in Nicaragua and in the United States: the notion that there is a sensible middle ground on abortion policy. Prolifers may think they've prevailed. By overreaching, however, this law may prove to have been a strategic setback for sustainable protection of fetal life. In the crucial, long-term 'hearts and minds' contest, their position is unlikely to hold sway.Prochoice absolutists and prolife absolutists have this much in common: the conviction that when it comes to abortion policy the only alternatives are total access and total restriction.

Nicaragua may simply follow its next door neighbor El Salvador, which has adopted very harsh policies regarding ectopic pregnancies. See NY Times article: Doctors are not allowed to treat ectopic pregnancies until either the fetus is dead or the fallopian tube ruptures, which places the life of the mother in danger. The NYTimes article cited above states: According to Sara Valds, the director of the Hospital de Maternidad, women coming to her hospital with ectopic pregnancies cannot be operated on until fetal death or a rupture of the fallopian tube. That is our policy, Valds told me. She was plainly in torment about the subject. That is the law, she said. The D.A.'s office told us that this was the law. Valds estimated that her hospital treated more than a hundred ectopic pregnancies each year. She described the hospital's practice. Once we determine that they have an ectopic pregnancy, we make sure they stay in the hospital, she said. The women are sent to the dispensary, where they receive a daily ultrasound to check the fetus. If it's dead, we can operate, she said. Before that, we can't. If there is a persistent fetal heartbeat, then they have to wait for the fallopian tube to rupture. If they are able to persuade the patient to stay, though, doctors can operate the minute any signs of early rupturing are detected. Even a few drops of blood seeping from a fallopian tube will irritate the abdominal wall and cause pain, Valds explained. By operating at the earliest signs of a potential rupture, she said, her doctors are able to minimize the risk to the woman. If the woman does not stay in the hospital (perhaps because she cannot economically afford to do so) and her tube ruptures, the risks to the woman's health and life are severe.

When I read or hear arguments like many of those above, it strikes me that they make no sense unless you first posit that a human fetus is not a human life. Typically, however, such arguments don't start there. In other words, the moral bases for objecting to the ill effects of outlawing abortion (e.g. free choice and protecting women) are only valid if you first say and unborn fetus is not human, yet very few "pro-choice" arguments explicitly address this.

Yes, I find the report that fewer than 10 ectopic pregnancies are treated in Nicaragua per year puzzling.Perhaps these ectopics are being treated as something else. Perhaps the rate of ectopics among Nicaraguan women is much lower than average. Perhaps these women are simply not treated or reported as statistical casualties.UNICEF reports that the maternal mortality rate for child-bearing related complications is 230 per 100,000 live births. can't find any statistics that indicate how many of those women died from ectopic pregnancies.Just for comparison's sake, the maternal mortality rate in U.S. is 17 per 100,000 live births.

Sean, I don't really understand what you're talking about when referring to "the arguments above".The fetus is a human life. In an ectopic pregnancy, this human life fetus is unsavable. There is no option for bringing this human life fetus to term and if left too long, both the human life fetus and the human life mother will die. Therefore, abortion laws that do not permit an exception in the case of ectopic pregnancy condemn both human mother and human life fetus to death. If the human life fetus cannot be saved no matter what, then is the law deemed to be more "moral" by making the human life mother wait until her life is in grave danger before doing something about it?

Donna,I am not writing specifically about the ectopic pregnancy issue, as such - as I said I think that's probably a red herring. I would really like to see a translation of the law itself rather than the self-serving interpretations of the law's opponents in some of the news articles. As I said, I find David's logic above pretty solid, and certainly more convincing that the position that the new law does more than remove a very rarely used exception. I agree with your analysis of ectopic pregnancy, and I think it is consistent with Church teaching - which is another reason I think the new law probably doesn't affect the issue.Specifically, I was referring to arguments or statements that claim outlawing abortion indicates "incredibly low regard that is held for women's lives," or that it leads women to use "some back alley abortionist." I also realize now, that I was probably conflating some of what was in the linked news reports with this discussion. I apologize for being unclear.

Sean H, my point was that the Church's doctrine on ectopic pregnancy does evince a low regard for women's lives, because it subjects women to a higher risk of disability and death with no corresponding benefit to any other life, and I'm sticking to my analysis. That you can refer to ectopic pregnancies as a red herring just reinforces my view. What's a few dead women compared to a living doctrine? Or something like that.

Ah. Thanks for clarifying.I am of the mind, however, that not allowing some provision - whether it be an outright exception or at the minimum providing additional support - for cases of rape and/or incest does indicate a low regard for women's lives and that is an opinion I hold without ever considering the fetus to be less than human.The fetus is a human life. The mother is a human life. A woman or child who has been brutalized through rape or incest should have - must have - some options additional and more humane available to them instead of a 20 year prison sentence if they find they cannot comprehend giving birth to the child of their attacker.I think to minimize the trauma suffered by women at the hands of their sexual abusers and write it off as something they just have to get over in favor of giving birth is a tremendous injustice and will indeed drive up the rate of "back alley" abortions.If the goal is to have such women give birth regardless of the circumstances surrounding their pregnancy, then there should be no expense spared to ensure they come through the experience as spiritually and emotionally intact as possible.Without that support, then we have merely traded in one life for another, which ultimately shows no genuine regard for either.

Barbara,I refer to the ectopic prenancy issue as a red herring because it is used as a basis for challenging this law (and other like it) when there is no evidence that the law is aimed such situations at all. The fact that 400 women protest the new law because they say it would outlaw the procedure they had under a current law in which all abortions except those threatening the life of the mother, but only 6 women used that exemption in the last year, indicates it's not really an issue at all. As I said, I would like to see a good translation of the law, and know what the treatment of ectopic pregnancies has been before making a final judgment, but it seems the procedure is available now, and it doesn't make sense that the new law would change the definition of what procedures are covered.Donna,I ask the following question regarding the rape exception. Since the basis for it is, and must be if one agrees with the principle that a fetus is a human life, that the prevention of the psychological trauma it causes the mother is so severe that it justifies the taking of an innocent life, how far does that principle go? For example, would the husband of a woman who was raped be justified in forcing an abortion to avoid the psychological trauma to him? Is the psychological trauma the trauma of the pregnancy? The birth? The mere existence of the child?I am not trying to minimize the seriousness of the problem or the trauma such a woman or girl suffers, but the principle itself is a very dangerous one.

With regard to rape and incest exceptions in the law, Casti Connubii (64) unequivocally states:"As to the "medical and therapeutic indication" to which, using their own words, we have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent?"Given the above, are legal restrictions on abortion in this or any other country short of full doctrinal adherence permissible?I assume should anything less restrictive become law, that would be viewed, at best, as a temporary accomodation to be tolerated, with the hope and intent of eventually bringing the law into full conformance with church doctrine. Is that correct?

I found some further information which seems to indicate that the new abortion restrictions in Nicaragua will indeed prohibit treatment that was previously available in the case of ectopic pregnancies. Here's the key paragraph:"Almost 2,000 Nicaraguan women receive therapeutic abortions at public hospitals each year, Blandon said. Health ministry records show a far lower number, with only six such abortions recorded last year. But those did not include ectopic pregnancies and other abnormalities, which numbered more than 1,800 cases. Figures for private services are unavailable."

Sean,I think the question illustrates the problem of trying to come up with a one size fits all legal solution to abortion.When I say "exception", I don't mean the rape or incest victim automatically gets to have an abortion no questions asked. I mean an "exception" that allows for the fact that the law as written cannot be applied justly and so other provisions must be made.We could spend days coming up with various scenarios that test the ramifications of anti-abortion laws like the one passed in Nicaragua:Should a 12 year old girl raped by her father spend 20 years in prison for seeking an abortion?Should a woman who was victimized by rape and impregnated spend 20 years in prison for seeking an abortion?What if the rape victim is married and already has children? Do her living children not matter now and having their mother taken from them for the next 20 years is acceptable?What if the rape victim is married, has children, and her husband's response to the trauma is to throw her out? Or abuse her? Is a 20 year prison term just for her as well?Talk about a dangerous principle to follow. This presumes the woman/child is not an innocent victim of a crime, but a guilty party to be punished.This is not to say that the solution is to abort the fetus, but clearly (in my mind anyway) a punitive law that requires a prison term in all cases is not the just or moral solution either.Like other issues, many people are quick to load up the burden of the cross they want others to bear and not so quick to try and figure out how to help them carry it.If the laws are written to ban abortion in the cases of rape and incest, then the moral thing to do is make every possible effort to make the woman carrying the child feel valued, cherished, and healed so that she has the strength necessary to do what is right by the innocent life she carries.To do anything less relegates women to be of no more value than their reproductive organs, and as long as they can push the baby out, then all's right with the world. God knows, we were created for more than one purpose.There has to be more than one answer to this. Whether it's building a support system, or providing medical and mental health benefits, or long term family counseling, whatever it takes, but a prison term or even ignoring the fallout just doesn't cut it for me in the moral arena.As far as the Venerable Brethren are concerned, I have visions of them standing by the side of the road as Jesus falls with his cross and tsk-tsk'ing their pity. God forbid they should actually try to help pick the damn thing up.

Antonio, No one who advocates restrictions on abortion is going to answer your question. The party line is that, if/when/once Roe v. Wade is repealed, the issue will go back to the states for determination of what is permissible. As demonstrated by the ban in South Dakota, however, even the most conservative of states are unlikely to pass anything close to the official position of the Catholic Church. What that means for Catholics, especially Catholic politicians, has never been spelled out. Will the hierarchy continue to castigate any politician who fails to adhere to the official Church position? You know, it's hard for me to see that. To a very large degree, the fighting over abortion takes place where those who advocate restrictions never face the consequences of their position. Once real life health and life consequences abound, they are more likely to suffer real electoral consequences. That's why it's so interesting to see people refusing to state, specifically, whether they think the laws in Nicaragua and El Salvador are a good idea. They are as close to the Catholic position as anyone could hope for. And yet the enthusiasm is less than overwhelming.

Barbara writes,"To a very large degree, the fighting over abortion takes place where those who advocate restrictions never face the consequences of their position. Once real life health and life consequences abound, they are more likely to suffer real electoral consequences. That's why it's so interesting to see people refusing to state, specifically, whether they think the laws in Nicaragua and El Salvador are a good idea. They are as close to the Catholic position as anyone could hope for. And yet the enthusiasm is less than overwhelming. "Exactly. This is why I say it is the fraud issue of our time. Notice also that the theocons go to war with other people's children.That is the sin.

Donna,By their very nature legal solutions are always imperfect and imprecise. Is the 25 year-old woman who gets an abortion the same as the 13 year old girl who is raped? Of course not, but please tell me the difference in their unborn children that justifies killing one and not the other?The law ought to have some flexibility to deal with different circumstances, but there must be a standard. Is 20 years just? I don't know, but there has to be some standard.Bill and Barbara,It is not necessary or constructive to assert without evidence that those who take a prolife position "never face the consequences" of their position. You don't know that. Everyone is different, and everyone has different reasons, experiences, and expectations regarding their position. As for electoral consequences, the politicians in Nicaragua - inclusing the leftists - voted unanimously for the law.

Sean:Electoral consequences in Nicaragua are one thing. However, I assume what's at issue are the likely electoral consequences of enacting such legislation here in the USA.As I implied earlier, upthread, I also believe one needs to understand the de-facto situation regarding the enforcement of such laws in Nicaragua. Excuse my cynicism, but without knowing that, it seems to me you really can't tell whether or not the enactment of such legislation is just so much political theater.Finally, In my opinion, the debate has gotten so hung up on the ethical issues, that the practical legal consequences have received short shrift. I wonder why.

Sean H, I can't know, that's why I said "more likely," a position that I believe is supported by, for instance, the experience in South Dakota -- that politicians who adopt rigid pro-life legislation are likely to find themselves out of synch with their constituents and pay the consequences. Which is fine -- there's no shame in standing up for principles, but it would be unsurprising if principles were adjusted and revised in light of a desire to remain in power. In the larger context, and I say this with no malice at all -- the church has boxed itself into a position where, if its avowedly most important priority, the draconian restriction on abortion, is rejected, it stands a very real chance that it will be perceived as an outlier institution. I actually think that the Pope and bishops know this, which is why the fight has become so pitched, and "about" more than the moral issue itself. It's a fight for the mainstream of public morality, however ineptly it's being waged.

Let me clarify: if the church's position is rejected as a secular legislative project, it will have set up the very real possibility that its moral authority will be compromised because it has staked that authority on a legislative resolution to the abortion debate (unlike, for instance, the matter of divorce). Its unwillingness to distinguish between opposition to abortion and restriction of abortion by civil authorities makes its moral authority vulnerable to political currents.

No, 20 years is not just for a woman/girl who is already the victim. I'm not trying to justify why one unborn child should be killed over another. I'm saying that bringing punitive measures against women in all cases is unjust and immoral. We need to develop options that encourage the birth of the child without diminishing or sacrificing the health and welfare of the mother.

This law will not protect unborn babies more than Nicaragua's old law, as far as I can see.I agree with Antonio that this story isn't about whether abortion is morally excusable, but about how politicians seeking to parade their Catholicism during an election year have made a hash of trying to enshrine Catholic teaching into the penal code.Pro-life groups in the States usually say they don't want to penalize women who have abortions, just the abortionists. But that isn't how it worked in Nicaragua, where church leaders lobbied to more than triple the current prison term for women who have abortions. And President Bolanos, not to be outdone, called for 30-year prison sentences.Yeah, yeah, I know the United States isn't Nicaragua. But this bill gives right-to-life organizations a chance to advocate for humane treatment of women who have had abortions and to talk about how they would craft more sensible abortion legislation. But nary a word on Right to Life of Michigan's Web site. How about your state?

Jean,US pro-life groups already advocate for humane treatment of women. Look at the recently defeated SD initiative. Pregnant women were explicitly excluded from its provisions. That's right - no punishment at all.The Church and pro-life organizations are very active in helping women after abortion with things like Project Rachel etc. Contrast this with the typical abortion clinic - here's a pamphlet, see you later. They don't even have to bill since they usually require cash on the barrel head before they touch a woman.I am not for punishing women, and I don't think most pro-life people are either. Moreover, I think the whole, pro-lifer's don't care about women is a cannard.

If politicians in Nicaragua have "made a hash of trying to enshrine Catholic teaching into the penal code," shouldn't a large burden of responsibility be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Church itself, or at least the Nicaraguan Bishops, whose proposed draft of the bill was relied on heavily by the legislators? I have read a number of news accounts about the passage of this law, and I haven't seen any in which the Nicaraguan Bishops or other Church spokespersons say, "Wait! This is not what we intended!"It seems to me it is the American "pro-life" movement that is out of step with Catholic teaching when they portray women who have abortions as victims. The Catholic Chuch singles out abortion as a particularly heinous offense, deserving of especially harsh penalties (automatic excommunication) not merely for abortionists, but for the women who procure abortions. Yes, apparently the Nicaraguan law prohibits licit interventions in cases of ectopic pregnancies. But aside from that, how far does it stray from official Catholic teachings about abortion?

Sean, I don't expect you to give any quarter publicly on this issue, but in your heart of hearts, please remember that just because YOU do not advocate for punishment of women who've had abortions, not everyone in the pro-life movement agrees with you.Including some church leaders in Nicaragua.And it's not the pro-life organizations who will write the laws, it's politicians. Who are not above grandstanding about their faith to get votes any less here than in Nicaragua.And some pre-Roe state laws DO provide for punishment of women (see Oklahoma pre Roe statutes, for example), albeit I have never seen a pre-Roe statute that imposes a 20-year prison term on a woman, as some church leaders advocated in Nicaragua.It's not a canard, it's a cautionary tale about what happens when religious fervor (or political opportunism) edge out common sense and charity.I don't find the "it can't happen here" argument persuasive.

The church actively sought greater, not lesser penalties in Nicaragua. Are we to understand that the church is not quite universal? Snark aside, I agree with Sean that a Nicaraguan episcopal assault on pregnant women is unlikely to find success in U.S., but that's mostly because, unlike in Nicaragua, the U.S. isn't mostly Catholic. Which is to say, that's not saying much of anything good about the church in the U.S. except that its influence isn't as wide reaching as it is in Nicaragua. Please chew on that thought when you consider the implications of your own views regarding the punishment of women and restrictive laws on abortion. What do you really want the CATHOLIC position on abortion legislation to be?

"What do you really want the CATHOLIC position on abortion legislation to be?" I'm not sure, Barbara. Like most American Catholics I am profoundly conflicted about this issue. I am deeply dissatisfied with the American status quo and deeply dissatisfied with the Nicaraguan and South Dakotan solutions. Is your point that because the attempt at abortion restriction in Nicaragua is fatally flawed that any attempt to restrict abortion is fatally flawed? That there is no point beyond which/no circumstances under which the right to life trumps autonomy? In many respects prochoicers are blessed in their enemies. Prolifers so consistently display insensitivity. But at some point don't prochoice Catholics have to go beyond their contempt for prolife hypocrisy and address the violence involved in abortion? Why do prochoice sympathizers so often seem sanguine about abortion and contemptuous of prolife sensitivities?

The reason the Nicaraguan punitive approach will not gain a foothold in the US is because of our current legal system.If we legally classify abortion as murder, then the current laws regarding homicide would have to apply.Evidence would be gathered, the intent determined, and the charges weighted. A young incest victim might be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which would certainly be more appropriate than first degree murder, but imagine the trial.This is a can or worms no politician in America is going to want to open. The sight of incest/rape victims on the stand telling their stories to a jury is not going to play well to their constituency.Not only do I think the chances of gaining a conviction are very slim, but bringing such cases to trial could cause an unprecedented backlash against anti-abortion laws.

Unless and until the Catholic Church (and other like-minded religious organizations) can CONVINCE people that abortion is not something they should be pursuing, all of the laws in this land will not preclude abortions!People who are convinced that abortion is wrong most likely won't pursue it. But that isn't always true, either. One never knows how she will react until the problem is personal.A sign of weakness is that, when all persuasion fails, legislation becomes the hammer to pound the offending nail.

Jimmy,The problem with you argument is that a majority of Americans already are convinced that at least some restrictions are appropriate. An overwhelming majority would outlaw abortions after the first 3-4 months if they were allowed to.When Roe v. Wade was decided, a significant majority of Americans thought abortion should be prohibited, and the law reflected this. The "hammer" was the judiciary.You are correct that no law will ever preclude all abortions, but no law ever precludes anything it prohibits. That doesn't mean you give up.As to the punishing the mother issue, although I think it is counterproductive as many of the women who pursue abortions are themselves victims in some sense, I am a little ambivalent, and here is why. I spent a couple of years as a prosecutor, and that experience along with what I know from other prosecutors and defense lawyers is that the smaller the victim, the smaller the sentence - especially if the victim is your child. I personally think this is something of a carryover from the abortion culture. Infants as burdens, young mothers (and to a lesser extent fathers) as victims of circumstance. There is no statistical evaluation of cases that I know of, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that young parents, and in particular young mothers, who kill their young children get very light sentences. In the two cases like this that I worked on, it wasn't judges, but jurors who passed out the sentences.As I said, I think this is symptomatic of the attitude that is already there, but that is promoted by the abortion culture. Children's lives are valued little, infants barely, and the unborn not at all.

When abortion is framed as a matter of personal morality, Jimmy's comments make all the sense in the world. But everything changes if abortion is framed in terms of justice claims...even if these claims are held in tension with the claims of pregnant women. Consider: "Unless and until the Catholic Church (and other like-minded religious organizations) can CONVINCE people that racial discrimination is not something they should be pursuing, all of the laws in this land will not preclude racial discrimination!""People who are convinced that racial discrimination is wrong most likely won't pursue it. But that isn't always true, either. One never knows how s/he will react until the problem is personal.""A sign of weakness is that, when all persuasion fails, legislation becomes the hammer to pound the offending nail."Doesn't the consistency issue cut both ways?

Sean:For an excellent summary of recent abortion polling results see: me, the data indicatesa) That the public is clearly not aligned with the church's view as to the legal restrictions on abortion.b) There is no groundswell of public opinion towards the Church's view. c) Majorities consistently favor not overturning Roe v. Wade.I'm not an expert on existing law, but I was under the impression that there already were grounds for legal restrictions beyond the first trimester. So, it seems to me that the church still has some convincing to do with regard to the legal restrictions it believes are necessary.

Mike:In a pluralistic society, the question cuts both ways if and only if that society is convinced that victims of racism and fetuses are entitled to the same justice claims.As Jean Porter stated in a recent article in this magazine ("What can we say to convince men and women of good will who do not share our theological convictions or our allegiance to a teaching church that early-stage embryos have exactly the same moral status as we and they do?.... others may not be convinced by what we are saying because what we are saying is-not convincing."

Antonio,I didn't say the public supported the Church's position, but that there is widespread support for greater legal limitations on abortion. The polling data you linked to supports that position.As for Roe v. Wade, I have found most people don't even know what it stands for. The common belief is that it created a legal "trimester system" and the states are free to regulate beyond the first three months. Although it discusses the state's interest in regulating abortions in relation to trimesters, it didn't establish such a firm rule. Particularly in light of subsequent decisions enforcing the "undue burden" test, most state retrictions on abortion have been struck down over the years. So much so that nearly 2000 infants per year are aborted in the last six weeks of gestation. There are very few states where abortions are not generally available up to the end of the second trimester.

Antonio: I take your point. As Jean says, a convincing case has not been made to the public regarding the status of ' early stage embryo.' But what should be our position regarding the later stages?The link you provided substantiates the widely held public belief that abortion should be more tightly regulated in the second and third trimester. The number is of such abortions is not inconsequential and merits more than the sanguine dismissal often offered. Such abortions are much more numerous, for example, than the death penalty executions that we correctly decry. And yet we progressives seem to be more exasperated than understanding of those who advocate for fetuses and abortion restrictions. Why is this?

The last time I looked at the Guttmacher data was some time ago, so forgive me if I am not citing it with total accuracy. About 90% of abortions take place within the first tirmester, and about 10% thereafter. What is hard to pin down is the proportion of the 10% that constitute elective abortions that are not prompted by health issues related to either the mother or the fetus. Polls consistently show greater than majority support for abortions related to serious fetal defect (you don't have to tell me that many prospective parents interpret this in ways that you and I would definitely have problems with). It is very difficult to arrange an abortion after the first trimester. Women who do it are seriously motivated by some reason or another. Having a greater understanding of what exact circumstances accompany these procedures would be very helpful. At any rate, what polls seem to show is that people are most comfortable endorsing abortion in circumstances in which they could see themselves utilizing it, that is, early in pregnancy, and later in pregnancy for good cause. This isn't the Catholic position by a longshot. It just seems to me that the church is putting the cart before the horse in its approach. Advocating legislative resolution while ignoring clear and continuous polling data that shows hearts and minds have not been won is the wrong way to minimize abortion and risks some serious backlash. So no, I don't feel compelled to suggest some alternative legislative solution because lack of legislation isn't the problem.

The problem with right-to-life groups is that they cannot give up their "life begins at conception and all abortions are equally immoral and sinful" drumbeat.Maybe that puts them on the side of the angels theologically, but it hasn't been a very practical way to persuade those who don't hold with their theological premise that abortion is wrong.I think Sean may be right that the smallest lives are often seen as the least valuable. And if that's the case, the pro-life movement might better have started out lobbying against abortions at the point when a fetus can live on its own if born prematurely.I don't know too many people who would have demurred at that.They might then have worked back to the second trimester, restricting abortions in all cases except where fetal development indicated the baby could not live on its own. That would have, at the same time, allowed them to campaign for support for mothers with special needs children.The last step might have been to persuade those "problem pregnancy" mothers to elect to adopt instead of abort. Shortly after Roe v. Wade was passed in Michigan, some abortion clinics provided counseling about the procedure and offered to call someone from a pro-life group to pick up women from the clinics and help them find other options.Imagine how many babies might have been saved had pro-life groups been willing to tone down their rhetoric and work with the clinics, and if the clinics had not become so paranoid about violence that every pro-lifer was a potential bomber.

Sean H, it's true that, as a trend, the younger the victim the lighter the sentence, but this is usually when the perpetrator has a relationship with the victim. A hitman who takes out a child is unlikely to get a lighter sentence. Also, younger victims tend to become victims in circumstances where premeditation is lacking, that is, child abuse. For better or worse, there are many people who can see themselves, for instance, snapping and hitting or throwing a child in anger, and believe it only fortuitous that the conduct of the defendant in front of them resulted in death or grievous injury. It's also true that the younger the perpetrator, the more likely that mercy will be shown, and young victims tend to be victimized by younger than average perpetrators. I am thinking, for instance, of cases involving au pairs who kill infants. And although you attribute this pattern to abortion culture, I believe that this phenomenon is longstanding, and predates legal abortion. Throughout history, women who kill their infants have not been seriously punished.

Sean, Mike:According to --( which I assume correctly reflects the current state of the law):"Supreme Court rulings allow the individual states to regulate abortion in the following ways: o Banning elective [ie. non-therapeutic] abortions after viability; o Requiring parental consent or notice before a minor can obtain an abortion, although usually a "judicial bypass" option must be made available; o Requiring waiting periods before an abortion may be performed. (Usually 24-48 hours.); o Requiring informed consent or counseling be obtained before an abortion. (States often mandate what information must be presented.); o Requiring certain kinds of record keeping; "If that's correct, what additional tools do you feel the states need that they currently don't have?

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