Center Praises Momentous Decision in Abortion Case in Colombia

(Press Release) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights applauded the Colombian Constitutional Court’s decision which strongly reaffirms a woman’s right to seek an abortion in Colombia, a country which until 2006 had outlawed abortion under all circumstances. In 2006, the court ruled that abortion must be permitted when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or health, in cases of rape, incest and in cases where the fetus has malformations incompatible with life outside the womb. This past week on October 19th, the court reinforced that decision by ruling that under those circumstances in which abortion is legal, women “enjoy a right to decide, free from any pressure, coercion, urging, manipulation and, in general, any sort of inadmissible intervention, to terminate a pregnancy … it is forbidden to raise any obstacles, requirements or additional barriers.”

“The Court’s ruling is a tremendous victory for the women of Colombia and women across Latin America,” said Laura Katzive, deputy director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Court has joined national and international human rights bodies in recognizing that a woman’s decision to have a legal abortion is entitled to respect.”

The case before the court revolved around a pregnant Colombian woman who was diagnosed with a severe fetal malformation that was incompatible with life. Her healthcare provider authorized an abortion, but only if a judge granted a judicial order to do so – a condition that is not required under Colombia’s abortion law.  The judge ultimately refused to grant the order, stating that he conscientiously objected, on grounds of his personal beliefs.

The Constitutional Court’s decision reiterates and clarifies the rules relating to objections to providing abortions. The court found that neither institutions nor judicial authorities can refuse a woman an abortion based on conscience claims. Only individual medical professionals may object to providing those services and when they do, they must submit a written statement explaining their reasoning, and they must refer a woman to another physician who is available and willing to perform the abortion. Those who fail to follow the court’s order will be subject to sanctions.

Among other provisions, the decision:

  • Orders all hospitals and/or health centers, whether they are public or private, secular or religious, to have qualified medical professionals on staff available to perform abortions.
  • Obligates health professionals to guarantee a patient’s confidentiality and right to privacy and dignity when seeking an abortion
  • Forbids medical professionals from seeking additional requirements for patients seeking an abortion such as demanding forensic medical reports, judicial orders, health examinations not practiced timely, authorizations from family, legal consultants, auditors, or multiple doctors. 
  • Prohibits holding medical or auditors’ meetings to review or approve abortion requests that result in an unjustified delay of the procedure.
  • Reaffirms the 2006 decision prohibiting institutions or judicial authorities from refusing teenagers under 14-years of age an abortion, stating that teenagers are capable of deciding whether or not they want to terminate a pregnancy have the right to receive abortion services without the authorization of their parents.
  • Calls on the Ministry of Education and Social Protection to implement a plan to educate Colombian women on their sexual and reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion.

“The Constitutional Court has made it clear that a woman seeking an abortion when legal is entitled to quality and timely reproductive care,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, regional manager and legal adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center. “This decision ensures that those who seek to deny a woman her legal right to an abortion will be held accountable.”