“It's a Race Against the Clock”: A Qualitative Analysis of Barriers to Legal Abortion in Bogotá, Colombia

Chelsey E. Brack, Emory University Roger Rochat, Emory University Oscar A. Bernal, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/43e5317
Abstract / Summary

In 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued a decision largely decriminalizing abortion; however, illegal abortion persists. Understanding the barriers that cause women to resort to unsafe, illegal abortions could help improve access to legal services.


In-depth interviews were conducted in 2014 with 17 women aged 18 or older who had had legal abortions in the past year in Bogotá, Colombia, to identify barriers to abortion access and elucidate the ways in which these barriers affect women's decision making regarding abortion. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed using standard techniques to find patterns, parallels and differences; a phenomenological approach guided the thematic analysis.


Barriers related to knowledge and information, along with logistic, emotional, financial, cultural and religious barriers culminated in delays in obtaining comprehensive abortion services. Religion influenced social stigma, which manifested most powerfully in the obstructive behavior of health care providers and health insurance companies. Lack of understanding of current laws on abortion and conscientious objection was evident on the part of patients, health care providers and insurers.


Dissemination of accurate information regarding the availability of clinical and legal abortion is needed. Better training may help physicians, nurses and insurance company personnel understand their roles and legal responsibilities in abortion care and reduce delays in women's access to services.

Author's Affiliations

During the time this article was written, Chelsey E. Brack was a student in the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA, and in the physician assistant program at Samuel Merritt University, Oakland, CA, USA. Roger W. Rochat is professor, Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. Oscar A. Bernal is director, Master in Public Health program, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia.

Author contact: [email protected]


The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.