Saturday, September 22, 2012

The A.G. Eats His Anti-Abortion Words

Ordoñez eats his words. They must have tasted bitter. 

Colombia's arch-conservative Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez may have taken his opposition to abortion rights just a bit too far for his own good.

Ordoñez, a staunch Catholic, is a fierce opponent of abortion. So he understandably disliked having to carry out a 2006 court decision permitting abortion in four cases: when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, when the pregnancy endangers the woman's life or when the fetus has a severe malformation.

So, Ordoñez and two of his assistants took measures which, according to pro-choice activists and a Colombian court, were intended to illegaly restrict women's rights to legal abortions and even contraception.

Ordoñez's office issued communiques declaring that the 'day after pill' was abortive, that an entire hospital could refuse to perform abortions based on conscientious objection (even tho the court decision gives that right only to individual doctors), and had described sexual rights education campaigns as 'pro-abortion campaigns.'

Abortion-rights supporters sued, the court agreed with them, and the other day Ordoñez and two of his assistants had to eat their words by retracting and rectifying their statements. (Ordoñez is appealing this latest court ruling.)

But Ordoñez's high profile humiliation appears to be producing much broader impact. In the days following it, there's been increasing talk of legalizing abortion on demand, which would put Colombia on the very forefront of abortion rights in Latin America. As another part of the court's ruling, the government is evaluating whether public health programs should cover the cost of misoprostol, an ulcer medicine which is widely used to induce abortions.

On Friday, Senate President Roy Barreras, a medical doctor, surprised many by saying "I have no doubt that interrupting a pregnancy is not a crime."

"The crime of abortion which is now in the penal code is not only antiquated and unjust, but highly improbable," he added.

Barreras claimed that it was medically impossible to prove whether an abortion had been deliberate or a spontaeneous miscarriage.

The fact that the abortion prohibition is a charade is made evident by a visit to the Santa Ana Church in Bogotá's Teusaquillo neighborhood. The church is surrounded by health clinics for pregnant women which are widely known to provide illegal abortions. (Google abortion in Bogotá and their names will come up on public forums.)

When the Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion in those narrow cases in 2006, it based its decision on Colombia's high rate of maternal mortality. But since then relatively few legal abortions have been performed, in part because of the strong stigma still attached abortion and in part because of obstacles created by Ordoñez and others like him.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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