Colombian court permits abortion in extreme cases

Colombia's Constitutional Court has decided not to rule on a lawsuit seeking to soften the country's strict abortion laws to permit the practice in extreme cases such as rape, the court's president said. Manuel Jose Cepeda told reporters late Wednesday that the lawsuit failed to meet some legal standards, but did not explain further. He said the court remains willing to look at similar lawsuits in the future.

Monica Roa, a lawyer with the Madrid-based rights group Women's Link, filed the lawsuit in April, and court officials said in October they planned to rule before the end of the year. "What the court decided is not to decide," Roa told The Associated Press Wednesday night. "We'll have to wait and see their arguments because we have not yet seen the text, but we're committed to this public health problem."

Colombia, Chile and El Salvador are the only Latin American countries that prohibit abortion in all circumstances. An estimated 300,000 pregnancies are terminated illegally in Colombia every year, and 30 percent of women who have the abortions suffer complications, according to Social Welfare Ministry figures.

Roa's filing used international human rights agreements to argue that abortions in Colombia be decriminalized in cases in which a woman was raped, if her life is at risk or if the fetus has deformations "incompatible with life outside the womb."

Anti-abortion groups last month submitted to the court a petition with 2 million signatures urging magistrates to maintain existing abortion laws. Roman Catholic church officials in Colombia, who opposed any changes to the law, called the court's non-ruling Wednesday a victory.

The court's decision "implies that it took into account the opinion of the majority of Colombian people, who are against abortion," said Fabian Marulanda, secretary-general of the church's policy-making Episcopal Conference. Roa said a 2003 survey by the abortion rights group Catholics for the Right to Decide found that most Colombians support the changes she's proposed, reports the AP. N.U.

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