Bolivia Resists United Nations Pressure, Keeps Its Abortion Ban in Place

International   |   Stefano Gennarini, J.D.   |   Feb 20, 2014   |   4:51PM   |   La Paz, Bolivia

The Constitutional Court of Bolivia has upheld the country’s laws protecting unborn children despite international pressure from UN experts.

Bolivia’s highest court handed down a surprise ruling in a challenge to its criminal prohibition on abortion from advocacy group IPAS. The court held that unborn life must be protected, though it expanded a rape exception, and opened the door to embryo destructive research and the morning after pill.

boliviaThe case has been highly publicized in Bolivia, and was pending in the courts for two years. President Evo Morales reportedly weighed into the debate last year saying that “any abortion is a crime.”

The court’s arguments for protecting life are original. It asserted ancient indigenous cosmic beliefs that life is in constant perpetuity, without beginning or end; therefore everything that is life or “could potentially generate life” is protected by the Bolivian constitution. Abortion-on-demand should never be permitted, it continued, and abortion is a crime during the later stages of pregnancy.

Of note to abortion groups will be how the court disregarded the recommendations of two UN committees that asked Bolivia to de-criminalize abortion last year.

Proponents of an international right to abortion want domestic courts to strike down national laws based on the recommendations of UN human rights monitoring committees in order to claim there is an international customary norm on abortion. So far they have not had the success they seek.

Only two high courts in Latin America have recognized the suggestions of UN monitoring committees on abortion as authoritative or binding, in Colombia and Argentina. Most courts, including the high courts of Mexico, Peru, and Chile, have declined to follow the recommendations of UN monitoring committees on abortion.

While the court inflicted a stinging defeat on IPAS and other abortion groups working in the country, it did not leave them entirely empty-handed.

The Bolivian justices followed the lead of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in determining when life begins. In a ruling about the legal status of embryos, the Costa Rica-based Court decided that human life does not begin at conception, when an embryo is formed, but when the embryo is implanted in the uterus.

The justices also struck down the requirement that a woman press charges or obtain a judicial order against her rapist in order to avail herself of the rape exception in Bolivia’s criminal law.

Even though evidence shows this could mean impunity for rapists and sex traffickers, the court said these requirements would constitute cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, echoing suggestions to Bolivia from the Committee Against Torture, a UN committee that monitors the implementation of the UN treaty against torture.



The justices also asked the legislature and executive branch to follow the recommendations of UN monitoring committees on sexual and reproductive rights more broadly.

What authority the court imparted to those suggestions remains unclear from the ruling and notes issued from the court so far. A detailed explanation of the judgment will be issued in coming weeks. Note: Stefano Gennarini, J.D. writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.