Colombia's Highest Court Decriminalizes Abortion

Colombia's Highest Courtroom Decriminalizes Abortion

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Having an abortion is now not a criminal offense underneath Colombian legislation, the nation’s prime court docket dominated on Monday, in a call that paves the best way for the process to turn out to be extensively out there throughout this traditionally conservative, Catholic nation.

The ruling by Colombia’s Constitutional Courtroom follows years of organizing by girls throughout Latin America for better protections and extra rights, together with entry to abortion, and important shifts within the area’s authorized panorama.

Mexico’s Supreme Courtroom decriminalized abortion in a similar decision in September and Argentina’s Congress legalized the procedure in late 2020. Colombia’s determination signifies that three of the 4 most populous nations in Latin America have now opened the door to extra widespread entry to abortion.

It additionally comes as the USA has been transferring in the wrong way, with abortion restrictions multiplying throughout the nation, and the U.S. Supreme Courtroom considering a case that would overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional proper to abortion

“This places Colombia on the vanguard in Latin America,” mentioned Mariana Ardila, a Colombian lawyer with Ladies’s Hyperlink Worldwide, a part of the coalition that introduced one in all two instances difficult the criminalization of abortion. “That is historic.”

The court docket’s determination decriminalizes abortions within the first 24 weeks of being pregnant, and signifies that any lady ought to be capable of search the process from a well being skilled with out concern of prison prosecution. It additionally units the stage for the Colombian authorities to manage the method additional.

The transfer is a part of a cultural sea change throughout Latin America, spurred by grass-roots feminist actions and a youthful, extra secular era.

In a area traditionally recognized for its Catholic religion and social conservatism, a rising push for ladies’s rights and abortion entry gained prominence a bit greater than a 12 months in the past when Argentina grew to become the most important nation in Latin America to legalize abortion.

Quickly, abortion rights supporters throughout the area, from Mexico to Paraguay, Brazil to Colombia, have been sporting or brandishing inexperienced handkerchiefs — the image of Argentina’s abortion rights motion — to point out their solidarity with girls’s sexual and reproductive rights. The handkerchiefs grew to become symbols of the work that girls’s rights attorneys and activists had been doing extra quietly for years.

The Argentina determination reverberated throughout Latin America, displaying that it was doable to legalize abortion in nations with sturdy Catholic and evangelical Protestant beliefs and a historical past of patriarchal beliefs.

In September, Mexico’s Supreme Courtroom dominated that it was unconstitutional to make abortion a criminal offense, serving to to clear the best way for the legalization of the process within the nation of about 130 million folks.

The Constitutional Courtroom magistrates in Colombia thought-about over the previous few months two petitions that challenged the portion of the penal code that made abortion a criminal offense.

In one, a lawyer named Andrés Mateo Sánchez Molina mentioned the measure violated rights protected by the Structure, together with the best to human dignity, freedom and equality.

In another, introduced by Causa Justa, a coalition of abortion rights teams, attorneys argued that criminalization had solid abortion in such a damaging mild that it prevented even girls with a authorized proper to an abortion from getting one.

In some instances, the coalition mentioned, the existence of the prison penalty led well being professionals to disclaim the process to girls who certified for it. In others, girls averted in search of abortions in authorized well being facilities out of concern they might be jailed, as an alternative in search of dangerous alternate options in underground clinics.

“These boundaries have an effect on primarily girls dwelling in rural and distant areas, low-income girls, adolescent women, girls and women dwelling in conditions of armed battle and victims of gender violence, together with bodily and sexual violence,” representatives of Causa Justa wrote in a abstract of their petition. Making the process a criminal offense in most circumstances, they argued, was subsequently unconstitutional.

In the end, the court docket determined to listen to the Causa Justa case first. The second case shall be heard at a later date, however the first determination can’t be reversed.

A whole bunch of abortion rights supporters and dozens of their opponents stood exterior the courthouse in Bogotá awaiting a call on Monday afternoon.

In latest months, either side have carried out dueling public campaigns to attempt to sway the choice, and their rallies got here to represent the nation’s cultural divide on the difficulty.

Ladies within the crowd danced with inexperienced handkerchiefs over their head because the information moved by way of the group, prompting Jonathan Silva, 32, to stroll away angrily. An evangelical Christian who works for Unidos Por La Vida, an anti-abortion group, Mr. Silva mentioned the court docket had overstepped its energy and it was a call that must be made by elected officers.

“What they’re decriminalizing is the killing of human beings,” he mentioned.

Till now, abortions had been authorized solely in restricted circumstances, laid out by a 2006 Constitutional Courtroom determination: when a lady’s well being was in danger, when a fetus had severe well being issues or when a being pregnant resulted from rape. Anybody else who had an abortion — or who helped a lady acquire one — may very well be sentenced to 16 to 54 months in jail.

Abortion rights activists typically mentioned that this authorized panorama created a two-tier system: Wealthier girls in cities might get an abortion as a result of they knew the right way to use one of many exceptions specified by the legislation, whereas poorer girls with much less schooling had restricted information or means to take action.

Prosecutors in Colombia open about 400 instances every year in opposition to girls who’ve abortions or individuals who assist them, in line with the lawyer normal’s workplace. At the least 346 folks have been convicted in such instances since 2006.

Practically all of those abortion-related investigations have been in rural areas, involving women as younger as 11, in line with researchers with Causa Justa.

Unlawful abortions could be unsafe and trigger about 70 deaths a 12 months in Colombia, according to the nation’s well being ministry.

A latest survey by the nonpartisan firm Ipsos discovered that whereas 82 % of Colombian respondents supported abortion in some circumstances, simply 26 % supported it in all instances — and the court docket’s determination is prone to trigger friction as abortion rights activists, policymakers, well being care suppliers and others decide the way it must be carried out.

The choice can’t be altered by different authorized our bodies.

Colombia’s Constitutional Courtroom is taken into account by many authorized consultants to be extra liberal than the nation at giant, and lots of latest liberal shifts, together with the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2016, resulted from the court docket’s choices.

The court docket can also be thought-about a authorized trendsetter within the area, mentioned Francisco Bernate, a legislation professor on the College of Rosario in Bogotá, and the choice is prone to entice the eye of judges throughout Latin America.

Activists in the USA are additionally following the modifications within the area.

“These struggles are linked,” mentioned Serra Sippel, the chief international advocacy officer at Fos Feminista, an alliance of reproductive rights teams that works around the globe, together with in the USA. “We within the U.S. can actually study quite a bit.”

Sofía Villamil and Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.

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