Pregnant Nicaraguan Woman Denied Treatment for Metastatic Cancer

Jodi Jacobson

Amalia (an alias), a 27-year old Nicaraguan woman with a 10-year-old daughter, has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. She is in the hospital and could be treated, but for one thing: She is also pregnant and therefore her life is meaningless.

Amalia (an alias), a 27-year old Nicaraguan woman with a 10-year-old daughter, has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer.

She is in the hospital and could be treated, but for one thing.

She is also pregnant.

And therefore, under the law in Nicaragua, her life is meaningless.

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According to a report by Amnesty International:

Nicaragua’s revised Penal Code, which came into effect in July 2008,
stipulates prison sentences for girls and women who seek an abortion
and for health professionals who provide health services associated
with abortion. The prohibition includes cases where the life of the
woman is at risk or when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
[Emphasis added]

The revised penal code is inconsistent with the country’s Obstetric
Rules and Protocols issued by the Ministry of Health, to mandate
therapeutic abortions as clinical responses to specific cases.

"Nicaragua’s ban on abortion is the result of a shocking and draconian
law that is compelling rape and incest victims to carry pregnancies to
term and causing a rise in maternal deaths," said Widney Brown, Senior
Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

Amalia–a person, a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother–may soon become one of those statistics we all bat around from the safety of our computers to talk about abortion and maternal death.

First diagnosed with cancer many years ago, Amalia was treated and went into remission.  She moved on and lived her life.  She had a daughter, now 10 years old, for whom she wants to stay alive.

In the first week of January, she was hospitalized and after testing was diagnosed with metastatic cancer for which her doctor stated aggressive chemotherapy and radiation would be needed to save her life. 

However, because the chemotherapy might affect or lead to the death of the fetus, no doctor will treat her because they fear the consequences of a law that leads to imprisonment for doctors who even deign to think that women like Amalia–merely an incubator under Nicaraguan law–have the right to be treated as aggressively as they would a man.

Providing a therapeutic abortion–one intended to save the life or health of the mother–would give Amalia a fighting chance to live to raise her daughter.  Amalia, wanting to live, is fighting for the right to have this abortion.  Without it, she is denied the treatment she needs to live.  Ironically–or perhaps not–without treatment she is not likely to live long enough to carry this pregnancy to term. 

Make sense yet?

Amalia’s sister, desperate not to lose Amalia, has pleaded for help from human rights groups, and a coalition of 20 organizations working on women’s rights, child rights, sexual violence and reproductive health, The Grupo Estratégico por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico de Nicaragua (Strategic Working Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion of Nicaragua) is advocating on her behalf.

According to a statement by the Grupo Estratégico: 

As the days pass, the cancer advances, and will continue to do so
without therapy. The life and health of Amalia are at stake. Her only
hope is to have a therapeutic abortion performed, in order to initiate
the adequate treatment to detain the cancer. Doctors are denying Amalia
of this procedure adducing that the law does not allow them to practice
therapeutic abortion.

Having exhausted appeals to Nicaraguan authorities, the group is now taking its case to the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission in Costa Rica.  The process–or should I just simply say "hoops"–through which Amalia and her representatives are being forced to jump are costing her precious days of treatment as her cancer progresses every day.

At some point, it will be too late for the treatment to matter.

Amalia is a human being, deserving of human rights.  Her case is also but one example of the end result of efforts of the so-called "pro-life" movement to make it increasingly difficult to see and treat women as actual human beings, as opposed to the container for the potential beings they may be carrying in their wombs.  Amalia may also soon be one of those statistics about which that movement creates every excuse in the book to dismiss as "not real," "irrelevant," "not that bad….". Remember how often the stories of women helped by Dr. George Tiller were discounted and contested by the so-called pro-life movement, and both the mainstream and online media after he was murdered?  (Did they really need those abortions….?).  Amalia is one of those women.  Before our eyes right now.  The only difference perhaps is that being in Nicaragua, it is even easier to ignore her case and make it a statistic.  She is "over there."

Her case is illustrative of the reasons why international organizations such as Amnesty International have taken on the battle to hold Nicaragua and other countries with similar laws accountable for human rights violations.

member states should take this opportunity to hold Nicaragua to account
for a law that violates women’s right to life, health and dignity," says Widney Brown.

"Nicaragua’s law criminalizing abortion goes against the advice of
four U.N. treaty bodies and fails to meet its obligations under
international human rights laws," Brown states. "Nicaragua needs to repeal this law immediately
and enact laws and policies that promote the rights of women and girls
by ensuring their rights to health, life and to be free from violence,
coercion and discrimination."

I hope that day comes, for every woman everywhere, though its arrival is constantly pushed into the future by the actions of the Catholic Church, organizations like Human Life International, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council and other so-called "pro-life" advocates. 

It may be too late for Amalia and all those she loves and by whom she is loved.

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