Colombian Jesuit Hospital Fined for Denying Abortion

For the first time since 2006, when abortion was decriminalized in Colombia under three circumstances, a governmental health authority fined a hospital that refused to  perform a legal termination.

The Secretaria Distrital de Salud fined the Jesuit hospital San Ignacio, located in the Colombian capital, which in 2008 denied an abortion to a woman whose fetus had a confirmed diagnosis of having severe malformations.

Two years ago, the Constitutional Courts issued the sentence C-355, which states that abortion is not a crime under three circumstances: When the life or health (physical or mental) of the woman is in danger, when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or when grave fetal malformations make life outside the uterus unviable.

In 2008, Migdoly Yolima Bernal, 27, and  five months pregnant, requested an abortion from the San Ignacio Hospital, a teaching hospital of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, a Jesuit private university.

Her fetus was suffering of severe hydrocephalus, asymmetric growth and grave cardiac pathology.

Despite this diagnosis, the hospital objected to the request. Its manager stated the San Ignacio Hospital does not practice abortions due to its religious principles.

However the higher governmental health body of Bogotá sanctioned the medical center with a fine of US $5,170 because according to the legislation, a physician can argue conscientious objection, but a hospital cannot. In this case, the hospital has the obligation of finding another doctor who was willing to practice the abortion. In the extreme case that all doctors oppose, the hospital has to refer the woman to another health institution that performs the necessary procedures.

Bernal looked for another hospital to perform the termination. In addition, she submitted a legal measure which resulted in the governmental sanction.

His husband, Manuel Rodríguez, celebrated the decision of the health authority. "For us, this sanction will help women who have such kind of pregnancies complications because they won’t look for clandestine abortions. "They will know that there is a legislation that protect them, so they won’t put their lives in risk."

According to Monica Roa, Colombian representative of Women’s Link Worldwide (WLW), the sanction was kept in strict confidence, but the health authority was compelled to disclose it as a result of a legal measure submitted by WLW.

"This is very important because it is the first sanction issued by the Secretaría Distrital de Salud, and it is a sanction against the abuse of institutional conscientious objection, which is not valid, because the conscientious objection have to be personal," stated Roa.
WLW played an important role in the decriminalization of abortion. In fact, the Court’s sentence is the consequence of the lawsuit submitted by WLW through Roa.

The hospital announced that it will appeal against the sanction. However, success is unlikely because the regulations issued by the Colombian Ministry of Social to implement the sentence follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization.

"The hospitals of religious communities have adopted the conscientious objection as a pretext to not observe the sentence and that is why this sanction is very important," Sandra Mazo, member of the Catholics for Choice-Colombia, said.

In fact, there is a lot of work needed in order to ensure that a woman’s right to access abortion services be respected, guaranteed and promoted so that she can make an informed decision on whether she wants to end her pregnancy, but some progress has been done. At least no woman has died for the impossibility of getting a legal abortion since the regulation of the Court’s sentence, Roa said.

Such sanction sets a precedent that will probably generate a reduction of barriers to access this right among the public and private health care centers.

To perform abortions in the three cases, "is not a free choice, it is a duty, and its rejection is not only a lack of observation of a judicial order but also a violation of women rights," stated Angela Benedetti, member of the Concejo de Bogota, the capital legislation body.

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  • invalid-0

    Wow, this is great. The first priority a hospital should be to provide health care. I’m still surprised that a religous (a word that has connotations of morality and compassion) hospital tried to take advantage of provider conscience laws.

  • invalid-0

    I would not be surprised at all if the Church just closed the hospital altogether instead of providing abortions for fetal disaility. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was told they had to include gay people in their adoption program. Instead of doing that they ended their adoption program altogether. I’m not saying this was a good thing. I’m saying its very possible that it will happen here as well. I’m not sure who exactly led the campaign to get this law passed but I’ll be interested to see if they now lead an effort to build a new hospital to replace the one that will now very likely close. God help anyone who has been depending on that hospital up until now.

  • progo35

    This is why I support conscience laws. Because a religious hospital was just fined for not performing an abortion that violated it’s principles and you are celebrating that. As for objections needing to be "personal," the hospital’s decision had to involve the input of physicians there, who agreed to work at the hospital in light of it’s objection to abortion. I think that if the woman’s life had been in jeopardy, the hospital would have performed the procedure, but since it was not, they felt that the procedure was elective, which, from a maternal health standpoint, it was. Whatever happened to the freedom of healthcare providers not to participate in procedures that violate their principles? Good for the hospital and its physicians for sticking by those principles, even in the face of being fined by the government.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history"-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • crowepps

    "the procedure was elective, which, from a maternal health standpoint, it was."


    Enduring another four months of pregnancy, and risking the complications which emerge in those last four months, knowing that one is using ones own blood and bone to continue to enlarge an obviously nonviable fetus seems pretty negative from a maternal health standpoint to me.  What would be the point in requiring the woman to continue to gestate a predead fetus?

  • crowepps

    Do you have reason to believe that the Church is going to blow the hospital up?  Certainly the Church may disassociate itself from the hospital, probably be selling the building and its contents, at which time someone else will run it. 

    To me, this is a good thing, since the new administration will know going in that by law they have to provide complete, medically necessary health care, without imposing their religious beliefs on their patients.

  • crowepps

    The conscience ‘right’, like all other rights, can only be held by individuals, not by institutions.  Although each individual member of a religion has absolute freedom of religion and conscience, the corporate institution of the religion does not.

  • progo35

    Crowepps-that’s your opinion. The hospital’s physicians should have the right to have a different opinion, which is that while the fetus was still alive in the womb and the woman’s life was not at risk, nor was she afflicted with a diagnosed physical or mental problem, the procedure was elective. Emotional distress does not qualify as a mental health condition unless it stems from a recognized disorder, like psychotic depression. It’s not as if that woman couldn’t have the procedure done someone else. I’m glad I live in the US, where some freedom of conscience currently remains.


    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • progo35

    Croweeps-that position blissfully ignores the fact that the hospital’s position was determined by individual healthcare providors with consciences. Saying that "institutions" can’t hold a certain belief is to negate the conscince rule entirely, as any person in charge of an institution that enforces a non-abortion policy according to his or her convictions would have to hire physicains willing to perform abortions, and/or provide abortions on the premises in violation of his or her conscience.  


    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    • crowepps

      So in order for the institution to uphold its institutional ‘conscience’, they refuse to hire anyone who doesn’t hold the same position?  I suppose it could be clarified during the employment interview, or maybe the doctors, nurses and other staff could sign a loyalty oath.


      That makes sense to me – hospitals which are willing to perform abortions in cases of medical necessity could then do the equivalent and refuse to hire anyone for the staff who DOES have objections, and the patients would know upfront that after a rape you don’t want the ambulance to take you to St. Mary’s but instead to General where you can get actual patient-centered care.


      It would be even more helpful to have doctors put a little ‘conscience’ box in their Yellow Pages advertisements so patients could know which ones to avoid.

  • invalid-0

    This is in Columbia. Hospital access for the poor in South America is often difficult to obtain. I’ve a friend in Honduras who has to travel four hours to the nearest one. It costs a lot of money to run a hospital. Unless you are catering exclusivly to the wealthy its not the kind of field where you are going to make money and certainly not in Columbia. Sometimes hospitals are subsudized by a university, sometimes by the taxpayers and sometimes by the Church. If the Church sells the building its possible that the government or a university will take over management and cover the costs involved but I wouldn’t count on it.

  • invalid-0

    I think they distrust women & long-term health (if it’s a woman) isn’t a priority. It might be that the diagnosis was “wrong”, and well, better to expect women gestate a predead fetus rather than a viable fetus be aborted because a corrupt doctor misdiagnosed-on-purpose.

  • crowepps

    There wasn’t anything in the article about any DOCTORS not believing the abortion was necessary.  As I understood the article her doctor did feel it was necessary and was willing to perform the operation.  The hospital ADMINISTRATION prevented that doctor from performing what he felt was necessary medical care because it conflicted with THEIR religious principals, not his conscience or his medical determination.


    Being pregnant in and of itself entails the woman carries a heavy biological penalty as the woman uses her own body to grow, feed and breath for the fetus and clean up its waste.  Doing that an additional FOUR MONTHS for a fetus when it is known it be dead as soon as it is removed, no matter when it is removed, is ridiculous.

  • progo35

    There is nothing in that article indicating that a doctor said that she had to have an abortion to preserve her on life/health, or that the said doctor worked at that particular hospital. You are extrapolating from the information provided and using it to further your viewpoint. I repeat: hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, and other citizens should not have to do things that conflict with thier conscience, including serving in the army, performing or facilitating abortions, selling items that they don’t want to in their stores, and anything else that they feel is morally inappropriate. 


    Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich