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  HOME | Central America

Nicaragua Total Abortion Ban Challenged in Case of Cancer Patient

By Filadelfo Martinez

MANAGUA – A request to allow a Nicaraguan woman suffering from cancer to end her pregnancy so she can receive life-saving medical treatment is posing a challenge to the nation’s strict ban on abortion.

The case became public when the request made by the sister of the cancer-stricken woman, now 10 weeks pregnant and identified only as “Amalia,” was published Friday by local daily La Prensa.

The official response to the petition was not long in coming, with Nicaraguan Health Minister Guillermo Gonzalez telling reporters that a government-sponsored medical commission was already studying the case.

“Unfortunately, it seems that there are political interests behind this,” Gonzalez said, without offering more details. He added that the government will not offer any remarks on the matter until the team of experts has issued a report and its “technical decisions.”

“We’ll comment on this case in due time,” he said.

Leftist President Daniel Ortega once was a supporter of limited abortion rights, but after re-embracing Catholicism he supported a 2006 law that banned the practice in all cases, even when a women’s life is at risk.

The law, enacted shortly before Ortega took office in early 2007, was strongly backed by religious leaders in the mostly Roman Catholic Central American country.

Several lawsuits have been filed with the Supreme Court challenging the total abortion ban as unconstitutional, although the justices have not yet issued a ruling.

The local press reported that Amalia’s sister and directors of the local non-governmental organization Strategic Group against the Criminalization of Therapeutic Abortion brought the case to the attention of another NGO, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, or Cenidh, which described the woman’s plight as “dramatic and painful.”

Amalia, who has a 10-year-old daughter, is currently a patient at a state hospital in Leon, 90 kilometers (55 miles) west of Managua, where, according to her sister, she still has not begun receiving treatment because it would harm the fetus.

Dr. Oscar Flores, with the Strategic Group, said Amalia suffers from “metastasized cancer that has spread throughout the patient’s body, a problem exacerbated by the pregnancy.”

For her part, Cenidh President Vilma Nuñez told the local press that she has already petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to grant “cautionary measures” on Amalia’s behalf “so the (Nicaraguan) government ensures access to ... the effective treatment the patient requires.”

Cenidh spokespersons said on Friday that the Strategic Group’s directors also will bring the case to Supreme Court Justice Alba Luz Ramos.

According to Amalia’s sister, the head of obstetrics at the Leon hospital told the family that abortion is not an option because it is against the law.

Flores, meanwhile, said “the Supreme Court must urgently rule” on the constitutional challenges to the therapeutic-abortion ban.

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