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Abortion ruling stirs Colombia

Lifting of total ban may become issue in upcoming vote

BOGOTA -- The debate over abortion in heavily Roman Catholic Colombia raged yesterday after a court ruling that allows for the procedure in certain cases. One cardinal threatened to excommunicate women who undergo abortions.

The landmark ruling Wednesday overturned a complete ban on abortion that punished women who have the procedure with up to four years in jail. Chile and El Salvador are the only other countries in Latin America to maintain a total ban.

The long-awaited decision by the Constitutional Court, which voted 5-3 in favor of the changes, cannot by overturned by the Supreme Court.

Under the decision, abortions will be permitted in the cases of rape, incest, if the life of the mother is in danger, or if the fetus is so deformed that it would be unable to live outside the mother's womb. Abortion under all other circumstances will remain illegal, punishable by up to three years in jail for the woman and the doctor performing the procedure.

''The court fulfilled its duty in recognizing the right of Colombian women," said lawyer Monica Roa, who spearheaded the lengthy legal battle to overturn the abortion ban, told Caracol radio Wednesday night.

Abortion now threatens to become a political issue as the country prepares to vote for its next president May 28.

Cardinal Pedro Rubiano warned that ''those who commit the crime, the sin of abortion, will be excommunicated immediately."

Abortion rights activists, however, said the ruling was a victory for reproductive rights.

Carlos Gaviria, the candidate for the left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole, praised the ruling. President Alvaro Uribe, who is favored in his bid for reelection did not immediately comment on the decision but has opposed abortion in the past.

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