Nicaragua abortion ban killing women -rights group

MANAGUA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - An outright ban on abortion in Nicaragua has caused the deaths of at least 80 women since it was imposed 11 months ago, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The U.S.-based rights group said women with risky pregnancies whose lives might be saved by aborting the fetus were dying because of the ban on terminations in any circumstance.

"They died because of the intimidation effect of penalizing abortion," said Human Rights Watch investigator Angela Heimburger, presenting the data in Managua.

"While Latin America advances on the path to democracy and exercising citizen rights, Nicaragua is going backward in terms of respecting human rights, pluralism and secularism," she said.

A week before Nicaragua's Nov. 5, 2006, election, lawmakers extended a ban on abortions to include rape victims and women who risk dying in childbirth, angering women's rights activists and medical groups.

Under the law, pushed by the previous conservative government and Nicaragua's powerful Roman Catholic Church, women who abort or doctors who help them risk three years or more in prison.

Aside from the blow to women who become pregnant after rape or incest, the law is viewed as risking the lives of the some 400 women who suffer dangerous ectopic pregnancies in Nicaragua each year.

The law's timing was seen as central to its success, as left-wing lawmakers reluctantly supported it to help Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega get the Church's backing to sweep back to power.

When Ortega was first in power, after his 1979 revolution, his government reaffirmed the right to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or if a woman's life was at risk.