MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Nicaragua's Congress voted yesterday to ban all abortions, including those that could save a mother's life.
If signed into law by President Enrique Bolaños, 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 lawmakers abstained and 29 others did not attend the legislative session.
Bolaños has proposed increasing prison sentences for illegal abortions -- currently about six years -- to 10 to 30 years for women who have the procedure as well as those who assist them. It was unclear whether he would sign the bill approved yesterday after lawmakers decided not to increase the penalties in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
The bill has drawn protests from women's rights groups, and the Women's Autonomous Movement has said it was prepared to seek an injunction.
Congress approved the bill despite a letter from European Union diplomats and U N representatives asking lawmakers to delay voting on the issue until after the Nov. 5 presidential elections.
Nicaragua's medical association also urged legislators to postpone the vote, saying the issue had become politicized.
Aside from Cuba, which permits abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Latin America has some of the world's most restrictive anti-abortion laws.
El Salvador and Chile also ban all types of abortions.
Most 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.
In May, Colombia's constitutional court legalized abortion in cases where fetuses were severely malformed, the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or the mother's life was in danger.
Some 85 percent of Nicaragua's 5 million people are Catholic .
More than a dozen countries have made it easier to get abortions in the past decade, and women from Mexico to Ireland have mounted court challenges to get access to the procedure.