Bolivia enacts new abortion law with limited conscience clause

Sean Murphy*

A new abortion law has been enacted in Bolivia as part of the revision of the country’s Penal Code.  Section 153 of the Penal Code now permits abortion of any girl under the age of 20 for any reason and at any point in gestation, when pregnancy results from rape, incest or involuntary artificial reproduction.  Abortion is also allowed at any point in gestation in the case of present or future risk to the life or “overall health” of a woman, and (when pregnancy is under 8 weeks gestation) the woman is a student or has the care of a disabled relative.

The protection of conscience provision prohibits “the national health system” from asserting conscientious objection and insists that conscientious objection is limited to individual medical personnel “directly involved in the accomplishment” of the procedure, and must be stated in advance.  “The national health system” is not defined in the law.  It would appear from this that private or denominational health facilities (if they exist) cannot establish policies prohibiting abortion.

The fact that abortion is permitted as an exception to a general prohibition should mean that medical personnel or institutions of the opinion that a women does not qualify for an abortion under one of the legal criterion (such as risk to “overall health”) cannot be compelled to participate.  This would not constitute conscientious objection and could not be stated in advance.

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