Friday, September 16, 2011

Abortion Un-Rights in Colombia

A pro-choice protest.
In case anybody had any doubts about why so few legal abortions have been performed in Colombia, despite a six-year-old law legalizing the procedure in certain cases, Colombia's attorney general recently gave us the answer.

The story involves a woman from near Villavicencio who claimed that her pregnancy threatened her life according to doctors. That's one of the situations, along with rape, incest or a grave malformation of the fetus, when abortion is legal. The 24-year-old woman went to several local hospitals, but the doctors either demanded more proof that her pregnancy was life threatening or refused to perform the abortion by claiming concientious objection, according to news reports. The law gives a doctor a personal right to refuse to perform an abortion on grounds of conscience, but requires a hospital to find someone or another hospital to perform the procedure for a woman who has a right to abort.

The woman sought an order from a local court authorizing the abortion, but was refused.

Finally, she went to one of the many clandestine abortion clinics and ended her pregnancy there.

'I abort, you abort, we all keep quiet.'
Hers is a common story. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute calculated that in 2008 some 400,000 abortions were performed in Colombia - of which only 322 were legal. Of those women who aborted illegaly, sometimes in dangerous, fly-by-night clinics, 132,000 suffered complications, according to the study. Of those, only 11 percent received the post-abortion treatment they were entitled to.

But this woman's story has a jarring postcript. Her appeal continued making its way up thru Colombia's court system, until the Constitutional Court ruled in her favor - that the Villavicencio hospitals had not carried out required tests to determine whether the pregnancy threatened the woman's health.

Then, court officials telephoned the woman, only to learn that she was no longer pregnant - and hadn't given birth, either. The unavoidable conclusion: she'd had an abortion.

Now, Alejandro Ordoñez, Colombia's very anti-abortion attorney general, has ordered a parliamentary commission to investigate the Constitutional Court judges for having failed to denounce the woman for aborting. In Ordoñez's view, two of the magistrates are accesories to the illegal abortion.

This is all despite the fact that the woman in all probability had a legal right to abort, but was denied her right by doctors and hospitals.

Ordoñez, in fact, wants to roll back Colombian women's very limited right to an abortion. That's a startling example of blindness by ideology. As the Guttmacher study showed, the existing abortion limits have done little to actually prevent abortions, instead making the procedure clandestine and dangerous.

Other studies demonstrate why the best way to reduce abortion isn't banning it, but educating people about constraception. Mind-blowingly, more than half, and perhaps as many as two-thirds, of all pregnancies in Colombia are unplanned. Reducing that number would do more than anything else to cut the number of abortions, legal or illegal, in Colombia. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


LaPolitica said...

Actually, because of the black market, abortions in Colombia are much easier and cheaper than in the US. The US has more restrictions and red tape when it comes to the overall processs.

As an expat in Bogota,I enjoy your blog and invite you to check out mine:

Miguel said...

Yes, you're right. Anything that's black market is unregulated. That might be good, but it can also be very bad if a patient has no way of holding a doctor responsible for malpractice - or even knowing for sure whether or not he's a doctor at all.

ilaydakal said...

i am very interested in abortion rights of women in colombia and which solutions could be handled? what do you think as a colombian person? im interested because im a delegation of colombia (in a debate team in school) and our topic is abortion rights of women in colombia and i have to defend the country and find some solutions the ones i had found so far wont work as a long period so what would you suggest as a solution? thanks