Congress voted as expected Thursday to ban all abortions, including those that could save a mother’s life.
If signed into law by President Enrique Bolanos, the measure would eliminate a century-old exception to Nicaragua’s abortion ban that permits the procedure if three doctors certify that the woman’s health is at risk.
Fifty-two lawmakers voted for the measure, nine abstained and 29 did not attend the session.
Bolanos has proposed increasing prison sentences for illegal abortions -- currently about six years -- to 10 to 30 years for women who undergo the procedure as well as those who perform them. But it was unclear whether he would sign the bill because lawmakers decided not to increase the penalties.
The bill has drawn protests from women’s rights groups, and the Women’s Autonomous Movement has said it is prepared to seek an injunction to block the measure if it passes in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Congress approved the bill despite a letter from European Union diplomats and United Nations representatives asking lawmakers to hold off on voting on the issue until after the Nov. 5 presidential election.
Nicaragua’s medical association also urged legislators to postpone the vote, saying the issue had become politicized.
Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who was a supporter of abortion rights as a young revolutionary, has said he has become a devout Roman Catholic and now opposes abortion. He leads the presidential contest in most polls.
Except for Cuba, which permits abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive antiabortion laws.
El Salvador and Chile also ban all types of abortions.
Most of the other countries in this heavily Roman Catholic region allow abortion when a woman’s life is in danger but deny it to pregnant victims of rape or incest, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group that supports abortion rights.