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Cablegate: Nicaragua's Health Minister Says Abortion Law

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #2630/01 3382117
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 042117Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8358
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 002630

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

WHA/CA FOR DRL, G/IWI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/04/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM KWMN
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA'S HEALTH MINISTER SAYS ABORTION LAW
PASSED WITHOUT CONSIDERATION FOR CONSEQUENCES


Classified By: DCM Brennan for reasons 1.4(b and d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Poloffs recently met with Nicaraguan
Minister of Health Margarita Gurdian to solicit her position
on Nicaragua's new legislation criminalizing all forms of
abortion and how this decision could affect women's health.
According to the minister, the law will create fear and
confusion, adversely affecting the ability of medical
doctors, clinics, and hospitals to provide treatment for
women with high risk or unviable pregnancies, as well as for
rape victims. Gurdian expressed regret that the medical
community was shut out of the legislative debate that was
strongly influenced by Catholic church and Evangelical group
interests. END SUMMARY

RELIGION, POLITICS, AND RUSH TO JUDGMENT
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) Minister Gurdian informed poloffs on November 21 that
the National Assembly's recent decision to criminalize all
forms of abortion was passed "too quickly," without
consulting medical professionals, and with little thought to
the consequences of this law and its potentially harmful
effects on women. The change in the Penal Code criminalizes
both the woman who undergoes an abortion and the physician
who performs the procedure, imposing a prison sentence of
four to eight years. She noted that the National Assembly
failed to clearly define the concept of therapeutic abortion
as the only legal procedure for women with at-risk
pregnancies to terminate a pregnancy to save a mother's life.
Gurdian added that under past legislation, permission to
undergo a therapeutic abortion
required the certification of three medical doctors.

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3. (C) Minister Gurdian lamented that lawmakers did not take
into account the health implications and adverse effects on
women when they changed the Penal Code, asserting that the
technical experts were "shut out of the
debate." She opined that lawmakers were "misinformed, and
not clear about what they were penalizing," noting the lack
of differentiation between therapeutic abortions that are
used only in emergencies and those that are "optional" or
elective abortions. Although she was somewhat cryptic in
alluding to the influence of religion on Nicaraguan politics,
Gurdian volunteered that the National Assembly likely rushed
the legislation through before the
November 5 election for political reasons and under pressure
from both the Catholic and Evangelical churches.

FEAR FACTOR WILL PUT MORE WOMEN AT RISK
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) Minister Gurdian described the change in legislation
as a "conflict of ethics and intervention," arguing that the
fear of punishment will prevent doctors from providing
treatment when the life of the mother is in danger or when
the fetus is unviable. Rather than reducing the number of
abortions, she believes the new law will lead to a higher
incidence of illegal, unsafe abortions, and increase the
incidence of maternal mortality. She added that the
Nicaraguan press contributed to the spread of fear and
confusion by printing sensationalist stories that claimed
women were dying as a result of the law without thorough
investigation of the alleged incidents.

CONTINUITY IN HEALTH MINISTRY
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) On other matters related to the Health Ministry,
Gurdian informed poloffs that she did not anticipate that her
ministry would undergo any major turnover with the transition
to an Ortega government. The Minister predicts
President-elect Ortega will want to maintain "continuity" in
the health department since he declared health as one of his
top campaign promises. (NOTE: A December 1 TV morning news
program and today's daily La Prensa speculated that Gurdian
will stay on as Health Minister for at least a year.) She
also expressed her appreciation for the USG's help in
treating the burn victims who survived a deadly explosion in
a fireworks manufacturing plant near the city of Granada
earlier this month.


BIO
- -

6. (U) Prior to her appointment as Minister of Health in
December 2002, Margarita Gurdian served as Vice Minister of
Health from 2002-2004, and has had extensive experience in
the health field in both the government and NGO sectors. She
previously worked in the Health Minstry from 1991 to 1992
under the Chamorro Administration, and was responsible for
strengthening cooperation in the health sector with NGOs, and
bilateral and mulitateral organizations. From 1997 to
December 2001, Gurdian worked with the Johns Hopkins
University at the Center for Programs in Communication in
Managua, and specialized in health communications. She
served as Executive Director of the Nicaraguan Fund for
Children and Family (FONIF) 1996-97, and before that she was
with the Ministry of Social Action where she held several
positions including as delegate representing populations
vulnerable to natural disasters from 1993-95. She was also
Oxfam International's representative to Nicaragua. She began
her career as Vice Counsul at the Nicaraguan Consulate
General in Los Angeles (1979-83). Gurdian earned her B.A. and
M.A from the University of California, in Riverside (UCR) and
Los Angeles (UCLA) respectively; and completed additional
studies at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins. She was also the
head of the Nicaraguan delegation to UNICEF to present and
defend the 1997-2001 Nicaragua Five Year Plan.


COMMENT
- - - -

7. (U) Minister Gurdian and the Minister of Family are the
only two women to hold any of the 12 cabinet level positions
in the current Bolanos administration. President-elect Ortega
has pledged to appoint women to half
of cabinet level positions in his government. END COMMENT


BRENNAN

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