Nicaragua's Anti-Abortion Policy Endangers Women, Criminalizes Doctors, Experts Say

The law doesn't just prevent necessary treatments, doctors say, it prevents meaningful discussion with the patient about their condition and their options.

Cain said doctors must defy the laws. In Nicaragua "where women have no reproductive rights, physicians have an ethical obligation to speak up, to advocate, and even courageously act to save the lives of their patients," she said.

"By failing to act, physicians fail to live out the basic ethical tenets -- [first, do no harm] -- of their profession."

But Dr. Ian Holzman, chief of the Division of Newborn Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, said the issue was a little more complicated when it came to the conscience of doctors.

"Many of us feel that a physician who doesn't want to do something for moral reasons is obligated only to refer the patient to another provider," he said, but with total ban, this alternative doesn't readily exist in Nicaragua.

Repealing the Ban and 'Special Measures'

Nicaragua's ban violates the right to life stated in Nicaragua's constitution, as well as the right to life promised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, to which Nicaragua is party, according to Amnesty International. Internationally, health organizations echoed Amnesty's dismay and have expressed opposition to the total ban.

Eleven member states of the United Nations and four expert U.N. committees, including those on Torture, Human Rights and Discrimination Against Women, have urged Nicaragua to amend its laws on abortion because of such violations and the documented rise in maternal deaths since the law took effect.

The World Medical Association put forth an emergency resolution to Nicaragua in October to repeal the legislation, saying that the law "could result in preventable deaths of women".

Nicaraguan groups asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Feb. 18 to request "special measures" to allow this particular 27-year-old woman to receive treatment.

In response to the requests, the government said it has appointed a commission of doctors to look into the issue, though for this young mother-to-be, a few months delay could mean irrevocable damage from the cancer.

"In some countries, women do not have access to proper medical care because they live too far from a hospital or there aren't enough doctors," Amnesty's Major said. "In this case, the only obstacle is a man-made law. It's a human rights scandal."

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