Monday, October 08, 2007

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua

New laws make abortion a crime even if a woman's life is at risk. I think the U.S. anti-choice movement should make study trips there to learn how their paradise will work.

The Guardian gives as a progress report:

María de Jesús González was a practical woman. A very poor single mother, the 28-year-old's home was a shack on a mountain near the town of Ocotal in Nicaragua. She made the best of it. The shack was spotless, the children scrubbed. She earned money by washing clothes in the river and making and selling tortillas.

That was not quite enough to feed her four young children and her elderly mother, so every few months González caught a bus to Managua, the capital, and slaved for a week washing and ironing clothes. The pay was three times better, about £2.60 a day, and by staying with two aunts she cut her costs. She would return to her hamlet with a little nest-egg in her purse. She bought herself one treat - a pair of red shoes - but she would leave them with her family in Managua, as they were no good on the mountain trails she had to go up to get home.

During a visit to Managua in February she felt unwell and visited a hospital. The news was devastating. She was pregnant - and it was ectopic, meaning the foetus was growing outside the womb and not viable. The longer González remained pregnant, the greater the risk of rupture, haemorrhaging and death.

What González did next was - when you understand what life in Nicaragua is like these days - utterly rational. She walked out of the hospital, past the obstetrics and gynaecological ward, past the clinics and pharmacies lining the avenues, packed her bag, kissed her aunts goodbye, and caught a bus back to her village. She summoned two neighbouring women - traditional healers - and requested that they terminate the pregnancy in her shack. Without anaesthetic or proper instruments it was more akin to mutilation than surgery, but González insisted. The haemhorraging was intense, and the agony can only be imagined. It was in vain. Maria died. "We heard there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain," says Esperanza Zeledon, 52, one of the Managua aunts.

González was not stupid and did not want to die. She knew her chance of surviving the butchery was small. But being a practical woman, she recognised it was her only chance, and took it. The story of why it was her only chance is an unfolding drama of religion, politics and power that has made Nicaragua a crucible in the global battle over abortion rights. This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

González was told at the hospital that any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face two to three years in jail and she, for consenting, would face one to two years. "Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

Why did I suggest study trips for our pro-life friends? Because most of their ideas about how to ban abortion in this country consist of something very similar to the Nicaraguan law which makes the physicians into criminals. That way the woman has no other recourse but coat hangers or traditional healers or various types of poisons.

The life and death of María de Jesús González. An extreme story, you might mutter. Of course it is. But her story was picked on purpose, because it shows what is wrong with the Nicaraguan laws. It shows how a woman whose whole life has been about caring for her children can become the one human sacrifice which is needed for the sake of the children (as seen by those priests and those rich lawmakers). She was poor. Nobody was willing to risk going to jail on her behalf, except for the traditional healers in her village. So she died, because she couldn't get an abortion for a pregnancy that would never have produced anything but a dead woman in the first place, an ectopic pregnancy.

Think about it: An embryo, destined to die in any case, is more important than the María de Jesús Gonzálezes of this world in the hearts and minds of the extreme anti-choice people. Any "unborn child" is more important in their hearts and minds than an already born woman. This breaks my heart.
Link thanks to Jules.