Colombia’s highest court declares abortion

BOGOTá, Colombia — Abortion is no longer a crime under Colombian law, the country’s top court ruled Monday, in a decision that paved the way for the procedure to be widely disseminated around the country. historically conservative, Catholic country.

The decision of the Constitutional Court of Colombia after years of being held by women across Latin America for greater protection and more rights, including access to abortion, and significant changes in the legal context of the region.

Mexico’s Supreme Court annulled abortion in a same decision in September and the Argentine National Congress legalization of procedures by the end of 2020. Colombia’s decision means that three of the four most populous countries in Latin America have now opened the door to wider access to abortion.

It also comes as the US is moving in the opposite direction, with abortion restrictions scaling across the country, and the US Supreme Court looking at a case that could pass Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion

“This puts Colombia at the forefront of Latin America,” said Mariana Ardila, a Colombian lawyer. Women’s Link Worldwide, part of a coalition that has launched one of two cases challenging the criminalization of abortion. “This is history.”

The court’s decision clearly defines abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and means that any woman can have the procedure performed by a medical professional without fear of criminal prosecution. It also sets the stage for the Colombian government to regulate the process.

The move is part of a cultural shift across Latin America, fueled by grassroots feminist movements and a younger, more secular generation.

In an area historically known for its Catholic faith and social conservatism, a growing push for women’s rights and access to abortion emerged more than a year ago when Argentina became the largest country in Latin America to legalize abortion.

Soon after, abortion rights advocates across the region, from Mexico to Paraguay, Brazil to Colombia, wore or brandished a green handkerchief – a symbol of the abortion rights movement in Argentina – to demonstrate their solidarity with women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The handkerchiefs have become a symbol of the work that lawyers and women’s rights activists have quietly done over the years.

Argentina’s decision resonated throughout Latin America, showing that abortion could be legalized in countries with strong Catholic and Protestant beliefs and a history of patriarchal ideals.

In September, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that making abortion a crime unconstitutional, clearing the way for legalization in the country of about 130 million people.

Over the past few months, judges of the Constitutional Court in Colombia have considered two petitions challenging a part of the penal code that has made abortion a crime.

In onea lawyer named Andrés Mateo Sánchez Molina said the measure violated rights protected by the Constitution, including human dignity, liberty and equality.

In the otherput forward by Causa Justa, a coalition of abortion rights groups, lawyers argue that criminalization has negatively impacted abortion to the point that it prevents even women with the right to legal abortion.

In some cases, the union said, the existence of criminal penalties has led medical professionals to refuse the procedure to eligible women. In others, women avoid seeking abortions in legal medical centers for fear of being jailed, and instead seek risky alternatives in underground clinics.

These barriers affect mainly women living in rural and remote areas, low-income women, adolescent girls, and women and girls living in conflict situations. armed men and victims of gender-based violence, including physical and sexual violence,” Causa Justa’s representative wrote in a summary of their petition. They argue that making the procedure a crime is in most cases unconstitutional.

In the end, the court decided to hear the Causa Justa case first. The second case will be heard at a later date, but the first decision cannot be changed.

Hundreds of abortion rights advocates and dozens opposed to them stood outside the court in Bogotá awaiting a decision on Monday afternoon.

In recent months, both sides have waged public wars to try to sway the decision, and their protests have become a symbol of the country’s cultural divide over this problem.

The women in the crowd danced with green scarves on their heads as the news spread through the crowd, prompting Jonathan Silva, 32, to leave angrily. As a evangelical Christian working for Unidos Por La Vida, an anti-abortion organization, Mr. Silva said the court had exceeded its power and it was a decision that should be made by the authorities. elected office.

“What they are decoding is killing people,” he said.

So far, abortion has only been legal in limited circumstances, made under a 2006 Constitutional Court decision: when a woman’s health is at risk, when the fetus has serious problems health or during pregnancy as a result of rape. Anyone else having an abortion – or helping a woman have an abortion – can be sentenced to between 16 and 54 months in prison.

Abortion rights activists often say that this legal landscape has created a two-tier system: Wealthier women in the cities can have abortions because they know how to apply one of the exceptions. are provided for in the law, while poorer women with lower levels of education have limited knowledge or are meant to do so.

Prosecutors in Colombia open about 400 cases a year against women who have abortions or those who help them, according to the attorney general’s office. At least 346 people have been convicted in such cases since 2006.

Nearly all abortion-related investigations take place in rural areas, involving girls as young as 11 years old, according to Causa Justa researchers.

Illegal abortion can be unsafe and causes about 70 deaths a year in Colombia, based on the country’s health ministry.

Recent survey by the nonpartisan company Ipsos found that while 82% of Colombians polled support abortion in some cases, only 26% support it in all cases – and the court’s decision is likely to cause friction as politicians Abortion rights activists, policy makers, health care providers and others determine how it’s done.

Other legal authorities cannot change the decision.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court is considered more liberal by legal experts than the country as a whole, and many recent liberal changes, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2016, results from court decisions.

Francisco Bernate, a law professor at the University of Rosario in Bogotá, said the court is also seen as a legal trendsetter in the region and the decision is likely to attract the attention of judges across the board. throughout Latin America.

Activists in the United States are also monitoring changes in the region.

“These struggles are interconnected,” says Serra Sippel, global advocacy director at Fos Feminista, a coalition of reproductive rights groups active around the world, including in the United States. “We in America can really learn a lot.”

Sofia Villamil and Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bogotá. Colombia’s highest court declares abortion

Fry Electronics Team

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