UN Committee Presses Colombia for More Abortions
By Samantha Singson
( NEW YORK — C-FAM) At the CEDAW Committee meetings last week, committee members pressed the delegation from Colombia on liberalizing its abortion laws, and on creating contraceptive, sexual and reproductive health awareness campaigns.
While commending Colombia for the recent court decision that decriminalized abortion in cases of rape, fetal malformation or the endangerment of the health of the mother, CEDAW committee members were quick to ask the delegation what the Colombian government’s plans were to ensure compliance with the new constitutional decision and asked about the further loosening of abortion restrictions. The head of the Colombian delegation, Martha Lucia Vasquez Zawadzky, told the committee that further decriminalization would entail cooperation from all three branches of the government but that “now is a time to rejoice” since the Constitutional Court had allowed abortion in three specific cases.
Committee member Magalys Arocha from Cuba expressed concern that women’s access to legally permissible abortions would be impeded because of conscientious objection legislation that would allow medical professionals to refuse to perform the procedure. Arocha asked whether the government had launched a campaign within the medical community to ensure compliance with the new laws. The Colombian representative told the committee that implementation mechanisms were in place to ensure that women would be seen within five days of being found to have met the court-outlined requirements to receive an abortion. The representative explained that while individual medical practitioners could use the conscientious objection legislation to justify a personal decision, medical institutions were required by law to provide abortions.
Observers in the room were puzzled when the CEDAW committee members questioned Colombia on the number of clandestine abortions. Some committee members cited 350,000 per year while others cited 450,000. It is likely committee members were using unsubstantiated numbers provided by radical NGOs in what are called “shadow reports.” It is questionable whether a country of 43 million would have an abortion rate significantly higher than the United States where abortion is legal through all nine months. This highlights one of the ongoing problems with such UN committees: they rely on highly politicized reports from abortion advocates.
Over the years, Colombia has repeatedly come under fire from UN treaty compliance committees regarding their abortion laws. In 2004 for example, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) recommended that “The State party [ Colombia ] should ensure that the legislation applicable to abortion is revised so that no criminal offences are involved in the cases described above.” In 1999, the CEDAW committee chastised Colombia for its strict abortion laws and said that “legal provisions on abortion constitute a violation of the rights of women to health and life and of article 12 of the Convention. The Committee calls upon the Government to consider taking immediate action to provide for derogations from this legislation.”