Report-- Unsafe abortions threaten Colombian women

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 9 September 2011 00:10 GMT
Backstreet abortions predominate despite some easing of law

BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - Major obstacles in accessing legal abortions, limited access to post abortion care and the misuse of abortion inducing drugs are endangering the lives of women in Colombia, according to a new study.

Despite a 2006 landmark court ruling that partially overturned Colombia’s blanket ban on abortion - allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother or foetus is in danger - only a tiny fraction of terminations carried out in the South American nation are legal, according to the report by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health research organization.

Of the some 400,400 abortions performed in Colombia every year, the report estimates that only 322 legal terminations have taken place in clinics and hospitals since 2008.

“The study’s findings make clear the need to remove institutional and bureaucratic obstacles for women seeking a legal procedure and ensure that health facilities with the capacity and mandate to provide safe and legal procedures do so,” said Cristina Villareal, co-author of the report.

The report cited a lack of awareness about changes to abortion legislation and refusal among doctors to do the procedure as the other main barriers to women receiving legal abortions in Colombia.

Based on surveys carried out in 300 health facilities across Colombia, the report found six out of 10 health service providers are not giving post-abortion care despite having the resources to do so, while nine out of every 10 clinics and hospitals do not offer legal abortion services.

Those health workers surveyed said lack of equipment, resources and trained medical staff were the main reasons why abortion services were not available.


The report says unsafe abortions are also leaving thousands of Colombian women with long-term debilitating injuries.

An estimated one-third of women who undergo backstreet abortions, often carried out by untrained health workers in unsanitary conditions, will develop complications.

“Unfortunately, one-fifth of all women experiencing abortion-related complications do not receive any treatment at all, and these women are especially likely to suffer debilitating consequences,” the report said, noting that poor women living in rural areas are particularly at risk.

Each year Colombia’s health system treats 93,000 women for complications arising from abortions, the report says, placing an unnecessary and preventable drain on the country’s health services.

Around half of all abortions in Colombia are performed using the widely available drug misoprostol, which induces abortions by causing contractions of the uterus.

But the drug’s misuse has contributed to the high number of complications resulting from abortions.

“However, despite the drug’s safety and efficacy when used correctly, inadequate knowledge of its use among women and providers results in a high rate of complications (32%), primarily heavy bleeding and incomplete abortion,” the report states.

More is needed to reduce the high number of women trying to end unwanted and unplanned pregnancies in Colombia, the main cause of abortions, the report said.

Nearly 45 percent of all unwanted pregnancies in Colombia end in abortion.

“Improved family planning services and increased use of contraception are key in reducing unintended pregnancies, and thus abortions, in Colombia,” said Elena Prada, one of the report’s authors from the Guttmacher Institute.

While contraceptives have become more widely available and more women have been using them in Colombia over the last two decades, the country’s high rates of unwanted pregnancies show that many women are not using contraceptives correctly or consistently, the report said.  




Unwanted pregnancies among the some 2.5 million women who have been forced to flee their homes as part of Colombia’s 46 years if armed conflict, are particularly high.


In 2005, 42 percent of displaced women in Colombia were not covered by any kind of health plan.


“Limited access to contraceptive services, and heightened exposure to rape and other sexual violence have all increased their (displaced women) vulnerability to unintended pregnancy,” the report said.  

(Editing by Lisa Anderson)



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