Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 3, 2020 / 05:14 pm (CNA).- Amid an ongoing court case challenging legal abortion in Colombia, the nation’s bishops have spoken up in defense of the right to life for the unborn.

“[T]he Magisterium of the Church teaches us that abortion in any situation represents a grave violation of the sacred right [to life] we all have,” said Bishop Elkin Fernando Álvarez Botero, secretary general of the Colombian bishops’ conference, in a Jan. 29 statement.

“That’s what the Church teaches, and even if the laws propose other situations, the message of the Church remains unchanged,” he stressed.

He emphasized that the right to life is also “the basis for all rights” and called on the nation’s authorities to take the right to life into account when decisions are made.

The bishop’s comments come as the Constitutional Court of Colombia reviews two lawsuits seeking to protect the rights of unborn children and prohibit abortion by healthcare providers in the country.

The lawsuits were filed last year by doctor of constitutional law Natalia Bernal Cano. They seek to recognize the unborn as having human rights and to completely ban abortion on the grounds that it “does serious harm to the babies and the pregnant mothers” involved.

Columbia’s Constitutional Court legalized abortion in 2006 in cases of rape, fetal deformities and when a doctor determines there is a risk to the life or health of the mother. In a 2018 ruling, the court affirmed its 2006 decision, declared abortion to be a “human right,” and asked the government to issue further regulations defining the legal circumstances for abortions to be performed. The Ministry of Health is currently working on developing those regulations.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Bernal said she filed the lawsuits to “achieve equal rights for the unborn.” The lawsuits are based on research that she has been conducting since 2014 into the risks posed by abortion to the life and health of women and children.

Bernal said her research shows a variety of health risks associated with abortion, including post-traumatic stress disorder, perforation of the uterus, infections, heavy hemorrhaging and death of the mother.

Babies who survive an attempted abortion may have serious disabilities including cerebral palsy, she said, and women who undergo the procedure may have subsequent premature deliveries and miscarriages.

Bernal also indicated that abortion on the grounds of the mental health of the mother is being misused in evaluating whether an abortion should be performed.

“Women temporarily distressed over their unwanted pregnancy consult the doctor who advises them to abort for that reason rather than addressing the underlying depression, mental disorders and severe anxiety,” she said.

Bernal also said that while the court permitted abortions performed by medical personnel, the rate of illicit abortions performed by individuals without healthcare credentials has risen, according to data from the prosecutor’s office.

“The article in the Criminal Code that I’m attacking does not contain an appropriate penalty for places doing clandestine abortions. It just says abortion is not considered a crime in those three cases [of rape, fetal deformity, and threat to the life of the mother], but it does not penalize illicit operations for those cases,” she emphasized.

Bernal said that the lawsuits have been stalled after the court asked the public authorities to provide “expertise on the legal and illegal practice of abortion.”

She charged that the court and the researchers are refusing to accept “the medical and scientific evidence that I brought to the proceedings, based on the medical expertise provided by doctors giving testimony in the proceedings.”