“National law has contempt for women”
Interview with women’s rights activist Azahálea Solís
It´s been almost four years since Nicaraguan lawmakers passed an outright abortion ban, joining the ranks of Chile and the Dominican Republic as the few Latin American nations not to allow women to terminate their pregnancies under any circumstances. The law sparked an outcry both in Nicaragua and globally from rights activists who argued the draconian law is a fundamental human rights violation since it criminalizes aborting a fetus even to save the life and health of the mother. In one of the most emblematic cases, a young pregnant woman in the northwestern city of León, was reportedly denied radiation for cancer because it would have harmed the fetus.
The move was pushed by current President Daniel Ortega, who also ruled from 1979-90, and his Sandinista party, which at its onset supported women´s rights. Azahálea Solís, a women´s rights activists and leader of Nicaragua´s Autonomous Women´s Movement, known as MAM has fought for women´s rights for 25 years. She was also a member of and fought for the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Latinamerica Press editor Leslie Josephs spoke with Solís about her work and how women´s rights are threatened in Nicaragua today.
Tell us about the current situation as a result of this ban.
In the case of the young woman in León, after she got pregnant they found her cancer, which required radiation treatment [which would have killed the fetus.] But in the hospital in Leon, they told her that they couldn´t give her the abortion because it is illegal. This is not an invention of media.
To understand the situation better, it´s important to note that they had about eight years without anyone dying from an ectopic pregnancy. The first death [for this reason] occurred after the criminalization of therapeutic abortion. The same hospital had another striking incident. A pregnant woman came with diarrhea. She was not given any medication because of the doctors´ fear that anything they gave her would induce an abortion. That woman died. She died from diarrhea. It´s a really terrifying situation.
What is behind the ban on therapeutic abortion?
They are mainly political reasons. There are no reasons that have anything to do with reasons outside of politics. In 2006, there were national elections and Comandante [Daniel] Ortega, the current president of the republic, ran for the fourth time, and by that point, he wasn´t willing to lose the election.
So they made this exchange with the [Catholic] Church, not because he thought it would increase his votes, but because it was a way to stop the Catholic Church from acting within the electoral opposition against Ortega. They weren´t trying to capture more votes. People who normally have a conservative or anti-Sandinista ideology are people who are against abortion. The fact that the [Sandinista National Liberation] Front put itself against abortion did not immediately create a following. They were trying to stop any attack from the Catholic Church.
What impact has the criminalization had on women´s health?
It´s a fact that violence against women and the murder of women have increased during these years. This could be because of how national law has contempt for women. This could be since how national law has contempt for women. This could be rooted in the national law because of the contempt it generates against women. If you criminalize the right to save someone´s life ... what´s clearly what´s behind it is that women´s lives are worth very little in the ideological cultural imagination.
In relation to concrete events that have to do with pregnancies or maternity deaths, actually there is information that in hospitals in the country abortion is performed so that this maternal mortality does not increase. But on the other hand, the fact is that the criminalization is an unavoidable factor in medical attention because the doctor, if he or she fulfills his medical duty, it could be a crime. If he or she does not, the person could be accused of negligence for not saving someone´s life.
There is an absurd issue in the Nicaraguan penal code that is “psychological damage to the fetus”, which is anyone who causes physical or psychological damage to the fetus is subject to criminal punishment.
What is being done to stop this law?
There is a proposal signed by various lawmakers, mainly Liberal ones, because no deputy in the [Sandinista] Front has signed it. It has to do with when it is necessary to save the life of the woman, an exception can be established so the therapeutic abortion can be performed
Did you ever support the Sandinistas?
Of course. I´m part of that generation of the revolution. In my personal history, I was a former soldier during the revolution.
Don´t you think that this is contradictory to the meaning of the revolution?
Absolutely. The original, historic program of the Sandinista Front spoke of the emancipation of women. In the 1980s, when the 1986 constitution was being discussed, the Sandinista Front proposed that the right to life was an unalienable right, and in response, conservative sectors proposed that life started at conception. The Sandinista Front opposed that completely.