By Matthew Hoffman
MANAGUA, January 24, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is continuing to defend his country’s decision to criminalize all abortions, while clarifying that life-saving procedures are exempt from punishment in the Central American nation.
In a speech delivered on January 17th to a group of parliamentarians visiting from Nordic countries, Ortega returned to the theme of his country’s anti-abortion penal code, which has been a controversial topic with Europeans since it was enacted in 2006.
Noting that the public is strongly opposed to abortion, Ortega stated that in the late 1970s, when he was a communist, his party did research into public opinion regarding the issue, in an attempt to determine if a more permissive law could be passed.
"When we were in the middle of the Revolution of 1979, with the youth and women incorporated, there were comrades that proposed that we approve abortion, one step beyond therapeutic abortion. We did profound surveys, among the people and the youth, and 99% indicated that they were against abortion," said Ortega.
"When they were asked if they had had abortions, some young women had had experiences with abortion, some women, in the interviews they said that yes, that they had had abortions, but they added that they weren’t in favor of abortion, because they didn’t feel good about having done it," Ortega told the delegates.
Later, when the issue re-emerged in 2006, the Sandinistas did another survey. "And when the topic begins to be debated again, all of the profound inquiries we did, we were not in the government, but we did our surveys, 80% of the population was against abortion! If we hold a referendum here on the topic, I’m sure that we would have a massive vote against therapeutic abortion."
Regarding claims that women have died in Nicaragua due to the abortion ban, Health Minister Guillermo González explained that "all of the cases that we have analyzed, their main problem was access to health services" and not prohibition of life-saving measures, which do not fall under the ban.
González added that maternal mortality has actually fallen since the abortion ban was implemented in 2006. "Therefore, to address the problems related to the topic of therapeutic abortion, it isn’t the central issue for our country. We have thoroughly studied it over the last year and I want to tell you that with the measures we have taken, we have reduced the rate of maternal mortality by 10%, which indicates to us that we are on the right road."
Ortega decried the fact that "some people have affirmed that, the law having barely been approved, scores of women have begun to die everywhere, a huge lie!"
The Nicaraguna president made his points in light of the fact that many Nordic countries are putting pressure on Nicaragua to legalize "therapeutic abortion" - a category so broad it can be used to justify the procedure in almost any situation. Sweden recently eliminated Nicaragua from its foreign aid program after repeatedly pressuring the country to change its penal code (see LifeSiteNews coverage at www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/aug/07083106.htm).
The head of the delegation, which included parliamentarians from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway, noted in her opening remarks to Ortega that, "As you know, the topic of therapeutic abortion has caused some concern among Nordic countries…"
Responding, Ortega recognized the pressure exerted by Nordic countries, particularly Sweden. "I want to refer very specifically to the topic of therapeutic abortion," he said. "I know that it has provoked a reaction in European countries, in the Nordic countries and above all I would say, in the Swedish government. We even are given to understand that the withdrawal of the Swedish government has to do with this and other political factors…"
"I have to respect the criteria of the Swedish government," said Ortega, "but I’m sure that if Olof Palme were alive, he would not agree with this decision. It’s ultimately a political decision."
Ortega’s Exchange with Nordic Parliamentarians in Spanish: