Subscribe >>

Alumni Dispatches: Jocelyn Getgen

Alumni Dispatches: Jocelyn Getgen

Jocelyn Getgen

JD, MPH '07

The Abortion Ban in Nicaragua

Approximately 10 percent of pregnancies worldwide end in unsafe abortion, and complications from unsafe, clandestine procedures are a leading cause of maternal mortality in Latin America. Ultimately, although there is little correlation between abortion legality and abortion incidence, there is a strong correlation among abortion illegality, inadequate regulation and unsafe abortion incidence. In other words, restrictive legislation or poor regulation is positively correlated with unsafe abortion incidence. Although many countries are part of an international trend that moves unsafe abortion from religious, moral and political frameworks to public health and human rights arenas—a giant step toward improving the health and lives of women—there are countries sidestepping this trend.

On October 26, 2006, the Nicaraguan legislature rescinded Article 165 of its Penal Code, eliminating the only exemptions to the country's general ban on abortion and criminalizing abortion for therapeutic purposes (i.e., for victims of rape or incest, or to save the health and life of the mother). Since then, human rights activists have challenged the ban before the Nicaraguan Supreme Court and are looking to international legal mechanisms to hold the government accountable for human rights violations as well.

I have analyzed the negative public health consequences and human rights violations that result from a total ban on abortion such as the one in Nicaragua. In addition, I have collaborated with reproductive rights advocates at the Center for Reproductive Rights to develop a strategy to reinstate exemptions for therapeutic abortion services in Nicaragua and save the health and lives of women there. These efforts have led opponents and state officials to commit additional human rights violations, including intimidation of several human rights activists by the state. Moreover, the persistence of the total ban has resulted in hundreds of deaths, including the death of Jazmina del Carmen Bojorge, who died from shock in a public hospital in Managua after complaining of limb pains and weakness five months into her pregnancy. In the end, I and my colleagues at the Center for Reproductive Rights hope to succeed in our efforts to end the ban and prevent countless other women's deaths due to unsafe abortion complications.

Jocelyn Getgen recently graduated from Cornell Law School and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a concentration on international human rights and humanitarian assistance. She is interested in economic, social and cultural rights issues as they relate to public health, including reproductive justice, post-conflict transitional justice, the right to education and the right to health, including collective mental health. She participated in the Nicaragua Community Partnership while a student at Hopkins, and later published a revision of her Capstone in the current edition of the Cornell International Law Journal ("Reproductive Injustice: An Analysis of Nicaragua's Complete Abortion Ban," published in 41 Cornell Int'l L. J. 143 (2008)). She is currently collaborating with Columbia's Center for Health Policy on various projects, including conducting a gap analysis on emergency preparedness law in New York, and she is also continuing work for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic on a project to assess the right to education of Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Support JHSPH

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health strives every day to keep millions of people around the world safe from injury or illness.

Make a Gift