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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK
Nicaragua eyes new abortion curbs
By Will Grant
BBC Americas editor

Pro-choice demonstrator in Managua this week
Pro-choice demonstrators were snubbed by MPs at a march this week
Nicaragua's parliament has moved closer to reforming the penal code to extend the ban on abortions to include cases where the mother's life is at risk.

The reform has been put before its judicial commission, which has 10 days to decide on whether it should be voted on by a full session of the assembly.

There is grave concern among pro-choice groups that the reform will become law in the near future.

Chile and Colombia have by contrast been relaxing their own abortion laws.

In 2003, the public prosecutor's office in Nicaragua ruled that an abortion carried out on a nine-year-old girl who had been raped was legal, as it had been done in order to save her life.

However, if a proposal put before the parliament's judicial committee becomes law, the doctors that carried out that abortion could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

Pro-choice and women's rights groups fear it will indeed become law, and soon.

A march led by key figures from the Catholic and evangelical churches in Nicaragua supporting reform of the abortion law attracted thousands of participants while protesters on the counter-march were snubbed by members of parliament when they arrived at the National Assembly building.

'Total ban looms'

The anti-abortion lobby can also count on some powerful allies.

Anti-abortion demonstrator in Managua this week - message reads "Mother, I want to meet you"
One pregnant demonstrator used her stomach to spread her message

The front-runner in the presidential election, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, has expressed his support for the anti-abortion groups and is in favour of speeding up the process by which this reform is debated.

The president of the judicial committee, Liberal MP Noel Pereira Majano, has voiced his opposition to the proposal, calling Nicaraguan society "mad".

He said they were trying to do something as sensitive as reforming the abortion law at a time when political passions were running high, during an election campaign.

However, although Mr Pereira's committee has the power to throw out the reform, there is no indication that enough of his fellow committee members share his view to stop it moving forward.

As such, many Nicaraguans fear that the momentum is now behind a complete ban on abortion.

Abortion ruling splits Nicaragua
04 Mar 03 |  Americas
Raped Nicaraguan girl aborts baby
21 Feb 03 |  Americas
Nicaragua child rape suspect held
19 Feb 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Nicaragua
04 Nov 02 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nicaragua
04 Jan 03 |  Americas

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