All forms of abortion have been criminalized in Nicaragua since July 2008.
Women and girls who seek an abortion, even those pregnant as a result of rape or those whose lives or health are in danger if the pregnancy continues, now face long prison sentences.
The law also leaves women and girls who have suffered a spontaneous miscarriage vulnerable to prosecution, since they may be wrongly suspected of having induced an abortion.
Health professionals who provide abortion services to save women’s and girls’ lives and health face the same punishment – even though the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health’s recommended best practice for the management of specific complications during pregnancy is termination.
By banning access to abortion services to victims of sexual violence, the law condemns all pregnant rape victims, even those who are still children themselves, to carry such pregnancies to term regardless of their wishes or the risks to their physical or mental wellbeing.
For many child rape victims the abuser is a member of their own family, meaning that the current law obliges girls in many cases to give birth to their own brother or sister.
The impact of such draconian bans falls most severely on women and girls from less affluent backgrounds. Women with few economic resources and fewer safe options may feel compelled to act outside the law and seek a “back street” abortion, endangering their health and risking imprisonment. Laws like the total abortion ban in Nicaragua lead to an increase in the number of such unsafe and illegal abortions.
The criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services in cases where continuing with pregnancy endangers a woman’s or girl’s life or health, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape, is a grave human rights violation.
The Nicaraguan government has taken an extremely regressive step with the introduction of this law. The authorities must take urgent action to repeal the law, and to guarantee access to safe and legal abortion services where continuing with a pregnancy endangers a woman’s or girl’s life or health, or where the woman or girl is the victim of rape.
On 28 September, Amnesty International is adding its voice to a regional call for the decriminalization of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. Women and girls in Nicaragua and throughout the region have the right to life, to live with dignity, and not to be obliged under the threat of imprisonment to continue with pregnancies that are the result of sexual violence or that put their health or lives at risk.