Colombian Constitutional Court Reaffirms that the Procurador General de la Nación Must Provide Accurate and Truthful Information on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

(PRESS RELEASE) Colombia's Procurador General de la Nación—head of one of the highest state institutions responsible for guaranteeing fundamental rights for Colombians—and two of his deputies violated their duties as public officers when they provided inaccurate and biased information on sexual and reproductive rights to the public, according to a Colombian Constitutional Court ruling issued on September 12.

Procurador Alejandro Ordóñez and his deputies, Procuradoras María Eugenia Carreño and Ilva Myriam Hoyos, distributed official documents containing incorrect information on several reproductive health and rights issues. Some false statements the Procuradores made include emergency contraception causes abortion; that health care institutions and providers have an absolute right to deny women access to lawful reproductive health services based on their moral or religious objections, and that there is no right to access safe abortion in Colombia. According to the Court's ruling, the actions of the Procuraduría's officials threatened women's rights to dignity, life and physical and mental health, and violated women's right to access reproductive health services.

"Public officials from the Procuraduría violated constitutional law by providing false information about reproductive health care—they placed millions of women's health at risk," said Mónica Arango, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Center for Reproductive Rights. "The Colombian Constitutional Court took a determinant step to uphold Colombian women's fundamental right to receive true and accurate information on sexual and reproductive rights from their government." 

Rather than respecting and protecting women's rights, as their post require, the Procuraduría's officials have actively sought to dismantle them. Women's Link Worldwide, an international human rights organization based in Colombia that advocates for gender equality, brought the case before the judicial system in September 2011 in conjunction with over 1200 women. The Center for Reproductive Rights joined Women's Link Worldwide's fight to safeguard women's and girls' sexual and reproductive rights in Colombia by submitting a friend-of-the-court brief in May.

The Center's brief argued that false information made public by the Procuraduría jeopardized Colombia's responsibility to comply with international human rights obligations as spelled out in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other treaties that the government has ratified. The brief demonstrated that the Procuraduría threatened and in some cases violated women's sexual and reproductive rights including the right to receive information on health issues, tantamount to a violation of their right to health.

Over the past several years, Colombia has shown an increased commitment to the promotion and protection of women's rights. On May 10, 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court held that abortion was a fundamental right, at a minimum, when continuation of the pregnancy poses a risk to the life, physical or mental health of the woman, when the pregnancy is the result of a non-consensual or illegal act, or when the fetus is not viable due to fetal abnormality.

In the ruling, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the Procurador and his deputies to rectify their inaccurate statements regarding all sexual and reproductive rights. Following the court's decision, Procuradoras Carreño and Hoyos presented their letters of resignation to Procurador Ordóñez.