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Bolivia Judge Faces Excommunication

March 16, 2000

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ A judge who ordered doctors to give a 12-year-old girl an abortion after she was raped and impregnated by her stepfather should be excommunicated, local Roman Catholic Church leaders said Thursday.

Church leaders had not yet made a final decision on whether to excommunicate Judge Juan Luis Ledezma. But Bishop Jesus Juarez said the judge’s abortion order violated church beliefs.

``Abortion is a crime that deserves excommunication,″ he said.

The church said it will also initiate legal action against Ledezma. Under local law, such an action could mean prison time in the unlikely event that a judge rules in the church’s favor.

``A horrendous crime was committed since the boy or girl was already 5 months old,″ said the Rev. Miguel Manzanera. ``The judge will carry his decision in his conscience for the rest of his life.″

Ledezma did not answer telephone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Abortion is widely practiced in Bolivia, despite the fact that it is illegal and is strongly condemned by the Catholic Church.

Doctors performed the procedure on the rape victim last Friday in La Paz after other doctors in Cochabamba, the city where she lived, refused to obey the judge’s order.

On Monday, the mother of the 12-year-old girl spoke with her face covered with a cloth at a press conference.

``If the church condemns me, I would still rather burn in hell rather than seeing my daughter suffer,″ the woman said. She was not identified by name to protect the girl’s anonymity.

The woman said her daughter was happy she went through with the abortion and will continue with her studies.

Women’s’ rights groups collected the money for the abortion.

The local bishop had not issued an excommunication order Thursday afternoon, but he is the top church authority in Bolivia and has the power to do so. Excommunication is the formal exclusion from the church and its sacraments.

Jose Rivera, a spokesman for the diocese of La Paz, said no final decision has been made on whether to issue an excommunication decree. But, Rivera said, Ledezma should be considered already excommunicated ``in the event that he does not repent.″

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