Thursday, December 20, 2007

Religion and Politics: Good Thing It is Not a Dinner Party

The effects of the Abortion Ban and Why it Got Passed

In 2006 the Nicaraguan Legislature voted in a law to out right ban abortions – even if the mother’s life is at risk. Former president Enrique Bolanos signed this law into the record books after much contested debate. In conversations and in human rights publications it became apparent that the timing of the vote was the critical factor.

 The issue of abortions was thought to be completed as the law was already conservative in nature, an abortion could only be obtained after three doctors confirm the mother’s life is at risk. However, the issue was revisited in the months prior to the Presidential Election of 2006. UN representatives and Nicaraguan medical associations pleaded for the bill to be postponed until after elections but their voices fell on deaf ears. The Sandinistas, the former revolutionary party that has always maintained the rights of the people as its battle cry, decided to support the proposed bill in fear that they would lose the votes of the Catholic and religious groups, which are numerous throughout the land. Current President Daniel Ortega, a long time advocate of limited-abortion rights, crossed aisles and used the issue to unite himself with the Catholic Church, something that many agree won him the election. This is simply an example of politics done wrong, or sadly right, and it's not limited to Nicaragua. Political leaders changing stances or building platforms to gain votes and not because they believe it is right or just for the many. What has come from this bill?

Many women’s rights group have launched campaigns that profess the bill as limiting the rights of women. A rare victory that received national headlines in 2003 was the dismissal of criminal charges against the parents of a 9 year old rape victim and the doctor who performed the abortion. The issue still remains as a topic of closed quarter conversation. One banner that stayed in my mind was across from the public university and read “Adolescentes that are pregnant were violated, give women their right and say yes to therapeutic abortions”. Women of all ages have suffered from the banning of therapeutic abortions. One women’s rights group uses the story of a 22 yr old woman named Olga who died from complications of an entopic pregnancy, which is when the fertilized egg nests outside the uterus; thus losing any chance of survival and gravely putting the mother’s life at risk. Doctors in the hospital hesitated to act stating that they felt their hands were tied.

In regards to HIV, I was told about the plight of one of the women living with the virus who does not have many options to consider. While struggling with the everyday battle against poverty and the mental anxiety of finding out one’s HIV status, the woman has found out she is 2 months pregnant. Her fears are serious. What if the baby has HIV? Who will take care of it if I succumb to the disease? Can my body take the start of treatment with being pregnant? How will I afford the costs of supplemental medication and food with raising a child? In her mind she has decided that a therapeutic abortion is the only answer but where can she go? She does not have the money like some of the wealthy to fly to the USA or other countries to get the procedure done. She does not have the money to hire a lawyer to plead her case in the courts or pay for a doctor at a private clinic to secretly conduct the abortion. The most realistic option she has is to get what is called a “back-alley abortion”. These illegal and unsanitary methods directly put the woman’s life in danger and can lead to horrible birth defects if not successful.

This abortion ban is only one example of the aligned relationship that takes place between the church and the state in Nicaragua and, as a result, women, impoverished women to be more precise, are the ones paying the real price. Instead of the $500 for a plane ride to the USA and how much an abortion costs, the Nicaraguan woman who can’t afford this pays the price of putting her life in danger because of a law that was passed in fear of losing votes. Sadly this has become the nature of politics; do whatever will get the vote or keep you in office.  

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