The Consitutional Court ruling, which ordered the country’s Inspector General and two officials to retract and correct their statements, was “an historic decision,” said Sarah Houlihan, staff attorney for international organization Women’s Link Worldwide.
“For the first time the Constitutional Court stated that public servants are obliged to provide accurate, reliable and timely information to women regarding their sexual and reproductive health rights,” the attorney told Colombia Reports. “The court said that as this is part of their public duties, it cannot be influenced or manipulated by their own personal opinions or beliefs.”
According to Houlihan this is “one of the first decisions worldwide to speak in depth about the right to information in the context of sexual and reproductive rights, and as such the Court is leading the way forward in the protection of women’s and girl’s rights to make informed choices based on accurate information.”
For Colombia, where 20% of adolescent girls are either mothers or pregnant, the decision means that the public “should be able to rely on the information that they receive in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Court made clear that public officials may not allow their private opinions or positions to interfere with the right to health, particularly the sexual and reproductive health of others,” said Houlihan.
Decision T627 ruled that Colombia’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, along with two officials, retract and correct the statements, which included claims that the morning-after pill constituted abortion.
The officials also said, in contradiction to explicit orders of the Constitutional Court, that medical clinics could collectively claim conscientious objection so as not to perform abortions that were legal under Colombian law. Abortion is legal when there is a risk to the woman’s life or health, the pregnancy is the result of rape and in cases of severe foetal abnormality.
The Court ordered the officials to publicly correct their statements, resulting in the resignation of two prominent female lawyers who refused to comply with the ruling.
Women’s Link Worldwide created the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards, now in their fifth year, to recognize that “in all countries, regardless of their political system or religious beliefs and traditions, what judges and courts say has a tremendous influence on the day to day lives of people,” said Houlihan.
The three decisions that best promote gender equality and equity receive bronze, silver and gold Gavels, while the three decisions that most negatively affect gender justice receive bronze, silver and gold Bludgeons.
Colombia’s case is among seven nominated for a Gavel in 2013, including a decision in Ghana which recognized a housewife’s maintenance of the home and care of husband and children were an essential contribution to the economic growth of the marriage.
Although Colombia can be proud of its legislative efforts to better protect women from abuse and discrimination, the country still has an appalling record when it comes to its treatment of women and girls, especially in rural areas where sexual violence is used as a “weapon of war,” according to NGO Plan International.
MORE: Machismo has to go: NGO
It is perhaps not surprising then, that Colombia also appears among the Bludgeon nominees for a case in which a doctor, in clear violation of doctor/patient confidentiality, reported a woman who came to him for medical help after a clandestine abortion. The woman received two months in prison.
Along with Colombia, the Bludgeon nominees include an Argentine decision reducing the prison time of a man who burned his wife to death, because he was “emotionally distressed,” and a case from the United States where, although the defendant was found guilty of sexual abuse, the judge lectured the abused woman on her responsibility for the attack by being at the bar where it happened.
The public can vote for the Gavel and Bludgeon nominations until 30 April 2013 here.
- Interview with Sarah Houlihan, staff attorney, Women’s Link Worldwide
- Gender Justice Uncovered Awards (Women’s Link Worldwide)
- Abortion debate ‘not over:’ Inspector General (Colombia Reports)
- Lawyers resign following order to rectify abortion comments (Colombia Reports)
- Colombia teen pregnancy worst in Latin America: Santos (Colombia Reports)
- Colombia’s ‘women warriors’ break tradition, confront violence (Colombia Reports)