Colombian Rift Over Abortion Widens

Bogota, Colombia - A news report that a cardinal threatened doctors who performed an abortion with excommunication sparked controversy Wednesday and a denial from the prelate.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo denied saying that the Vatican will excommunicate the doctors who performed Colombia's first legal abortion on an 11-year old girl allegedly raped by her stepfather.

"I have not said that, nor has the Holy See, nor have I thought it," Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, said in an interview with Caracol Radio.

The report Tuesday touched off a storm of controversy, making the front page of Colombia's leading newspapers and revealing how abortion remains a sensitive topic in this heavily Catholic country.

RCN television quoted Trujillo on its Web site as saying: "Every Christian Catholic who submits to an abortion, whether it be directly or indirectly, will be excommunicated."

RCN said the prelate was asked who should be excommunicated. "The doctors, the nurses, could be the family members - for this reason, the church is strict so Christians will not fall for similar temptations," the station quoted Lopez Trujillo as saying.

RCN did not immediately issue an official statement Wednesday on whether it was standing by its story.

In May, Colombia's constitutional court legalized abortion in cases where fetuses were severely malformed, the pregnancy was the result of a rape or incest, or the mother's life was in danger.

Initially, doctors refused to perform abortions, wary of later facing prosecution. But the court issued a ruling compelling doctors to abide by its decision if the woman's case fell within the criteria.

Carlos Lemus, director of the Simon Bolivar Hospital where the abortion was performed, said doctors were faced "with a request from a girl who wanted to return to her toys, her school, and the demands of the mother who did not want her daughter to have the pregnancy."

The abortion was performed over the past weekend.