BOGOTA, Colombia – Under the strict control of the Roman Catholic church, women in Colombia resorted to undergoing dangerous secretive abortions for centuries. If caught, they could face years in prison.
Although religious freedom was recognized in 1991, the church still wielded a strong influence. It wasn’t until a pregnant mother who had cervical cancer challenged the law that there were changes in 2006.
There were only three exceptions — life-threats, fetus anomaly, or rape or incest — when a coalition filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban as discriminatory. On Monday, pro-choice activists had a historic victory.
The country’s Constitutional Court sided with the coalition.
“This represents a huge victory for the whole continent,” Catalina Martinez said as she celebrated the ruling with other green-clad members of pro-choice groups in Bogotá.
The justices of Colombia’s top court voted to decriminalize abortions for pregnancies of up to 24 weeks without questions asked.
While the green wave movement sought to expand the decriminalization, blue-clad pro-life protesters were searching for ways to challenge the ruling, which they say violates Colombia’s “right to life.”
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization, was a member of the coalition of 90 organizations and 134 advocates in the 2020 lawsuit. Nancy Northup, the organization’s president and chief executive officer released a statement, saying access to abortion is essential healthcare and should not be treated as a crime.
“This ruling represents great progress for the people of Colombia. It will make a huge difference, especially for those who live in rural areas where access to abortion is hardest to secure — even in circumstances resulting from sexual violence,” Northup said adding that now there are 72 countries that regulate abortion under time limits.
Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean
The region has long had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, but pro-choice and human rights groups have been pushing for decriminalization.
- Abortion is allowed on request in Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay.
- There is an exception for life-threatening pregnancies in Venezuela, Guatemala, Paraguay, Suriname, Dominica, Panama, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Granada, and Antigua and Barbuda.
- Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, and Panama offer limited exceptions for rape.
- Abortion remains completely prohibited in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
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