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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Criminalization of Therapeutic Abortion

VZCZCXRO6186
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #2295/01 2832223
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 102223Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1464
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0098
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 002295

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN TLERSTON, JFEELEY
VALVARADO NSC
PRECHKEMMER G/IWI
GMAGGIO DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/10/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KDEM KWMN NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: CRIMINALIZATION OF THERAPEUTIC ABORTION
A POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS LIGHTNING ROD

REF: A. MANAGUA 06 02630

B. MANAGUA 06 02599
C. MANAGUA 07 00964

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (U) Summary: Women's rights organizations, human rights
NGOS, and physicians have reacted sharply to the Nicaraguan
National Assembly's vote to include in the country's new
Penal Code the criminalization of therapeutic abortion.
Opponents of the criminalization of all forms of abortion
have vowed to take the issue to the international courts.
Judging by the blowback over the past weeks, and especially
the outrage among former Sandinista feminists, the
polarization caused by this decision will likely have a long
shelf life. End Summary

- - - - - - - - - - - -
The Vote, No Exceptions
- - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) On September 13, 66 out of 92 deputies ratified the
criminalization of all forms of abortion in article 143 of
the Penal Code. The Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN) voted with the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) and
the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). The ban includes
"therapeutic abortion," i.e. where the life of health of the
mother is at risk. All three deputies of the Sandinista
Renovation Movement Alliance (MRS) voted against the
decision. Jose Pallais, PLC deputy and president of the
Commission on Justice, and a few other deputies abstained.

3. (U) This was the second time in a year that the
Nicaraguan legislature voted in favor of the criminalization
of all forms of abortion (Ref A). Efforts by human rights
and women's organizations to appeal the special law against
therapeutic abortion passed in 2006 under former President
Bolanos similarly had failed. According to the new Penal
Code, all forms of abortion will carry criminal penalties
including incarceration of between one and three years for
those found guilty of undergoing or performing an abortion,
along with the suspension of the medical license for any
physician charged with performing the illegal procedure.

4. (SBU) The casting of a "yes" vote by a majority of FSLN
deputies, effectively siding with most Liberals, struck a raw
nerve among Sandinista dissidents and MRS members. Women's
rights leader Ana Maria Pizarro captured the indignation of
disgruntled women's organizations and Sandinista sympathizers
by asserting that the FSLN had betrayed "without a trace of
shame" the memory of party founders Carlos Fonseca and Carlos
Nunez Tellez who fought for a secular state and the rights of
women. Several female FSLN deputies, who are believed to
hold personal views against the criminalization of abortion,
excused themselves before the actual vote and did not voice
any objections in the Assembly debate.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Women's Groups Angered
- - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (SBU) A majority of Nicaraguans oppose abortion. However,
the decision by the National Assembly to ban therapeutic
abortion has galvanized civil society groups, turning the
issue into a political hornet's nest. Leading opponents of
the criminalization of all forms of abortion, including the
Nicaraguan Feminist Movement, the Women's Autonomous
Movement, the Women's Network against Violence, the women's
health NGO Si Mujer, and the Nicaraguan Center for Human
Rights (CENIDH), among others, consider the law a form of
violence against women, and worry that poor women who already
have the most limited access to healthcare will be most
affected by the ban. In their view, the law represents a
negation of the State's responsibility to protect the lives
of 52 percent of the population. Denis Darce of the
Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) publicly agrees
that the penalization of therapeutic abortion represents a
human rights violation.


6. (SBU) Beyond seeing the matter strictly as a women's
rights or health concern, women's organizations and a number
of left-leaning NGOs regard the Ortega government's support
to ban all forms of abortion as a direct attack against the
women's movement in general. They believe that the vote will
strengthen the relationship between President Ortega and
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and the Catholic Church.
Fatima Millen of the Women's Network against Violence
asserted to poloff that the FSLN vote was "payback" by the
Ortega government against the women's organizations that
sided with Zoilamerica Narvaez in her sexual abuse case
against her adoptive step-father, Daniel Ortega (Ref. B). In
the run-up to the 2006 presidential election, some women's
organizations openly criticized then candidate Daniel Ortega
of being a sex offender who was rewarded with impunity (Ref.
C). Violeta Granera, director of the civil society
organization Movement for Nicaragua, opined that this
government is simply "anti-women."

- - - - - - - - - - - -
The Role of the Church?
- - - - - - - - - - - -

7. (U) Monsignor Leopaldo Brenes, President of the Episcopal
Conference, denied media speculation that he had lobbied
deputies by phone. Father Rolando Alvarez, spokesman for the
Episcopal Conference, meanwhile, confirmed that the bishops
had sent a letter to the deputies on September 7 which
clearly explained that the Church did not regard medical
intervention in the instance of an ectopic pregnancy or a
miscarriage already underway as therapeutic abortion. The
letter did maintain, however, that including any list of
exceptions for therapeutic abortion was "too dangerous"
because it could be "manipulated by abortionists." A
statement from the Episcopal Conference of Bishops praised
the National Assembly for putting an end to the "chain of
death" spreading throughout Latin America.

8. (U) Using guidance that he reportedly received from the
Catholic Church hierarchy, Pallais along with ALN deputy Luis
Callejos, had introduced a motion that would have allowed a
therapeutic abortion in extreme cases where the lives of both
the mother and the fetus were deemed in grave danger, and the
interruption of the pregnancy was the only means of saving
the life of the mother. Even though the Catholic Church
apparently could have supported this formulation, a majority
of the National Assembly voted on September 13 to strike this
exception from the new Penal Code.

9. (U) Praising Pallais for his stance, Marta Maria Blandon
of the Women's Feminist Movement, expressed regret that his
motion to protect the mother was never considered because the
issue had become politicized. For his part, Pallais
maintained that the deputies had felt pressured by the
Catholic Church, but that they failed to understand the full
position of the bishops. He opined that the reason a
majority of colleagues voted against the provision to allow
therapeutic abortion in extreme cases was the fear that it
would leave the door open to interpretation and permit other
types of abortion. He lamented that while the Church was
clear, the deputies were not.

- - - - - - - - - - -
Homophobia in the Mix
- - - - - - - - - - -

10. (U) During the National Assembly debate, a few deputies,
most notably Freddy Torres and Wilfredo Navarro of the PLC,
sought to discredit the protesters by labeling them "lesbian
assassins" and "people with abnormal hormones and no morals"
who had no business taking a stance on the matter of
abortion. Speaking from the floor of the Assembly, Torres
vowed, "Not one of these minority female assassins is going
to impose their views here." He further pontificated that
"Neither lesbians nor gays have any authority to approve
therapeutic abortion because they will never be mothers or
fathers." Torres lamented that the topic of abortion had
divided the country in two, between those who believe in "a
culture of death" and "those of us who believe in the culture
of life." Agreeing that the only women in favor of abortion
were homosexual, deputy Navarro scornfully called the female
protesters "lesbians, lesbians, lesbians" during his turn at
the microphone. Other PLC members, such as Enrique Quinonez,
also skirmished with groups such as the Women's Network
against Violence.

11. (SBU) Representatives of the Nicaraguan gay community
worried that Torres and Navarro were only "fomenting
homophobia and inciting hate and violence" with their
comments. Norman Gutierrez of the Center for the Education
and Prevention of AIDS, reminded the lawmakers that they were
elected by a large number of homosexuals against whom they
were now discriminating. Gutierrez, who was a candidate for
the Alternative for Change Party in 2006, called upon gay,
lesbian, and transgender Nicaraguans to be very careful about
who they vote for in the municipal elections next year,
claiming their community represented twenty percent of
registered voters.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Making an International Appeal
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

12. (U) The consensus among civil society and women's rights
organizations is that there is no point in fighting the case
any further in the Nicaraguan justice system. However, many
of the organizations opposed to the ban on therapeutic
abortion, with the backing of CENIDH, plan to take the case
to the international courts, either the United Nations, the
Interamerican Court of Justice, or the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the OAS. CENIDH
director, Vilma Nunez, has argued that the best course of
action would be to go to the IACHR to file a complaint
against the Nicaraguan government for violating the
Constitution and the human rights of women.

- - - -
Comment
- - - -

13. (SBU) The controversy surrounding the criminalization of
therapeutic abortion has escalated beyond any legal and moral
debate between the right-to-life and pro-choice camps and
become a lightning rod for women's organizations, some civil
society organizations, and human rights NGOs. With the first
meeting of the International and Regional Courts of Justice
convening in Managua the week of October 1, we expect that
the movement against the ban on therapeutic abortion will use
every opportunity to bring international attention to the
issue and continue to frame it in terms of human rights.

14. (C) In our discussions with women's organizations and
NGOs, we have made it clear that U.S. foreign policy does not
condone or recognize the right to abortion. However, we will
continue to closely monitor the domestic politics surrounding
this issue, which appears to have taken on an interesting
dynamic. It is not clear what Ortega's motives are in this
vote, but he has clearly decided that he can endure the wrath
of many leftist organizations that oppose the ban. Whether
in the long run he can afford to alienate important elements
of his political base remains an open question, and one that
bears watching.

TRIVELLI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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