The bill would allow women to have a termination in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without any restrictions
BOGOTA, Nov 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombia's attorney general said on Tuesday he would put a draft law before Congress next week easing the restrictions on abortion, marking a significant shift in opinion in the socially conservative country.
Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of rape, incest, fetal malformation or if the life of the mother or fetus is in danger, and one local non-profit estimates some 300,000 Colombian women a year undergo illegal abortions.
"Our proposal is that we should make progress on the issue of decriminalising abortion," Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre told reproductive rights campaigners, journalists and government officials at a conference on abortion in Bogota.
"This is not just a public policy but a policy that strengthens women's rights and their reproductive rights," he added.
The bill would allow women to have a termination in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without any restrictions.
It will need the approval of both Congress and Senate and is likely to face strong opposition from conservative lawmakers and the influential Catholic Church.
Both oppose any change in the law and say that abortion infringes the rights of an unborn child, which should be protected by law at all costs.
Around 300,000 women undergo illegal abortions in Colombia every year, and about one-third of them later have to seek hospital treatment for complications, according to Profamilia, a Colombian non-profit group that provides sexual and reproductive services.
Secret abortions put women's lives at risk, campaigners say. The World Health Organization (WHO) says botched abortions are a leading cause of maternal death in all parts of the world, and in 2008 accounted for 12 percent of maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told the conference that nine years after the Constitutional Court partly decriminalised abortion, there was still widespread confusion among doctors and health workers about the ruling, and "cultural prejudices" against women legally entitled to an abortion persisted.
He said the court's ruling gave doctors the right to refuse to perform an abortion on the grounds of conscientious objection, but that doctors were abusing this exemption. He did not go into detail.
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney, additional reporting by Julia Cobb, editing by Tim Pearce. Reuters Messaging: Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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