The lives of women are secondary

Never an easy decision for a woman to make, but here in the UK women can rest assured in the knowledge that the option to carry out an abortion is available should her life be at serious risk as a result of the pregnancy or if she is a victim of rape or incest and has fallen pregnant.

Tragically this is not the case for women and girls in Nicaragua where a new law imposed by the government last year means that all abortions have been criminalised, and both women and medical practitioners could face time in jail if they carry out a termination.

Before 2006, a woman or girl could have a termination if her life or health was threatened by the pregnancy, and in some cases, if she was a victim of rape.

The new law has repealed all exceptions, including ectopic pregnancies, the termination of anencephalic foetus (where most of the brain has failed to form and there is no chance of survival), and where a woman needs treatment to save her life which could risk her losing the baby.

As a result many women and girls – particularly those in poorer communities who cannot afford to travel to a neighbouring country where abortions are legal – have to make the terrible choice between risking death or serious psychological trauma through carrying on with a pregnancy or facing imprisonment if they have an abortion. The alternative is an illegal abortion which is often unsafe and where they put their health, liberty and even life at risk.

As the Guardian reports, Amnesty’s findings have revealed an increase in the number of maternal deaths in the past year in Nicaragua.

The new law affects not only women and girls but as Amnesty reveals in its new report, it has put hundreds of medical practitioners in a dilemma as they have to risk facing imprisonment if they are to do their jobs.  One doctor said ‘we can lose our practitioners licence, our freedom and our reputation, simply because when it was necessary, we acted.”

Amnesty’s Executive Deputy Secretary-General Kate Gilmore has just returned from Nicaragua where she met senior officials, doctors and women and girls impacted by this new law.  Yesterday at a press conference she described this new law as “a human rights scandal that ridicules medical science and distorts the law into a weapon against the provision of essential medical care to pregnant girls and women.”

In Mike Wooldridge’s feature on BBC News Online, a director of a women’s centre claims that in Nicaragua “the lives of women are secondary.”

Amnesty’s campaigning for the Nicaraguan authorities to immediately repeal the law that bans all forms of abortion and to guarantee safe and accessible abortion services for rape victims and women whose lives or health would be at risk from the continuation of pregnancy. You can find out more on

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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