Colombia: Constitutional Court upholds abortion rights

Many thanks to Sandra Dughman Manzur, an LL.M. graduate of our International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme, for translating this press release regarding an important judgment upholding the right to abortion in Colombia.

Risk to Mental Health is Sufficient Reason to Solicit Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy:
Constitutional Court of Colombia again protects women’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy 

February 23, 2012, Bogota. Translation from Press release by: La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres:

Through Judgment T-841, 2011, the Constitutional Court of Colombia protected the fundamental rights of a 12 year-old girl who applied for a voluntary termination of pregnancy because her life and her health were in danger. The minor complied with all the requirements necessary for an abortion.  However, after 10 weeks of unnecessary paperwork and formalities, she was forced to continue with her pregnancy.

As a result of the review process in a writ of injunction presented by the girl and her legal guardians, with the legal support of La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres, the Constitutional Court declared that in this case an irreparable harm had been caused, and condemned the EPS  to compensate the victim, taking into account that the girl is a minor, the damages to her mental health and interfering with her project of life; also they must provide unlimited services for her mental health. The EPS will be investigated by Supersalud (Superintendent of Health) that will be in charge of applying the corresponding sanctions that may be a fine, represented as a large sum of money.

La Mesa considers the Constitutional Court’s ruling is an advancement in the recognition of reproductive and sexual rights of Colombian women, because it ratifies access to voluntary termination of pregnancy as a fundamental right, from which certain obligations can be derived for the State and health entities; It demonstrates that to ask for any additional requirements or procedures to impede or extend the time for providing the service constitutes a serious violation of human rights.

Among this high court’s conclusions, it was established that a 5 day time limit is reasonable for the health entities to respond and practice the procedures. On the other hand, they declared that it was forbidden to dismiss medical opinions of professionals unaffiliated to the network of EPS practitioners, when these professionals determine that the continuation of the pregnancy represents a risk to a woman’s life or health. Within health care services for women that solicit a voluntary termination of pregnancy, it was said that a woman has a right to a timely and comprehensive assessment of the risks of continuing the pregnancy and that takes mental health into account.

From now on, Colombian judges are ordered to guarantee anonymity to protect the right to privacy of women filing a writ of injunction so that they may undergo a voluntary termination of pregnancy.

This ruling is an important accomplishment to protect the lives and health of women, because it develops arguments so that the health based ground may be applied in a broadly and comprehensive manner and in such a way that it benefits a greater number of women.

La Mesa acknowledges the ground-breaking contribution that the Constitutional Court has made in favor of women, and calls the State to guarantee the reproductive and sexual rights of all Colombian women.

La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres is a collective of organizations and individuals that from their knowledge and experience work for the reproductive and sexual rights of Colombian Women, for the effective implementation of Judgement C-355, 2006 and for the liberalization of abortion in Colombia.

The judgment, Sentencia T-841-2011, in Spanish can be downloaded here (13MB).

The original Spanish press release by La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres is online here.

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