Colombia Partially Decriminalizes Abortion in Historic Ruling

Colombia’s Constitutional Court partially legalized abortion on Monday, February 21, making it a historic day for abortion rights advocates throughout the country

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Colombia’s Constitutional Court partially legalized abortion on Monday, February 21, making it a historic day for abortion rights advocates throughout the country. With this new ruling from the court, abortions will be legal up until 24 weeks of the beginning of pregnancy. Following that time period, abortion will still be illegal unless the mother or the fetus’s life is threatened, or if the pregnancy was caused by rape, non-consensual artificial insemination, or incest. After more than 20 years of campaigning, advocates and supporters celebrated in front of the court on Monday evening. Colombia’s historic move follows other landmark rulings throughout Latin America, including in Argentina in December 2020 and Mexico last September. But Colombia’s win is one step toward full decriminalization in a country where at least 350 women were convicted or sanctioned for abortions between 2006 and mid-2019, including at least 20 girls under the age of 18, according to  Causa Justa, a Colombian women’s rights coalition.

“We knew this was not an easy fight, but at some point it had to happen,” Mariana Ardila said, an attorney for Women’s Link Worldwide, according to CNN. ”Of course, while we were hoping for full decriminalization, and we will keep fighting for it, this is an important step forward for us.” 

Like many other countries throughout Latin America, Colombia’s cultural values and political rulings are largely influenced by the Catholic Church, which opposes women’s rights to receive or seek abortions. To the point that since 2006, women could serve up to 4 1/2 years in jail for seeking an abortion and bystanders could potentially be charged with participating in a crime. 

While serving these sentences isn’t common, women still face a culture of fear and harmful social stigmas. They may also receive shame and rejection from their own families if they reveal they’re seeking or have already undergone an abortion. Because of these attitudes and lack of access to safe abortion procedures, women not just in Colombia but throughout the world are at higher risk of health complications and even death if they undergo clandestine abortions. Which is what makes Colombia’s legalization, even partial, such a huge step forward. 

“This is also about changing mentality,” Dr. Laura Gil said, a gynecologist in Bogota, according to CNN. “We are not trying to make people change their opinion about abortion—that is a question that is important only for women who are facing an unwanted pregnancy. This is about people understanding that regardless of their opinion, abortion is a right.” 

Even Latin American nations with progressive abortion rulings have a lot of work to do. In Argentina, abortion is legal up to 14 weeks, though women could still receive a 15-year jail sentence if they receive an abortion after that period. Abortion continues to be decriminalized throughout many states in Mexico and advocates continue to push for it to become fully legal.

“It’s an awakening of women’s rights,” Executive Director of Women’s Equality Center Paula Avila-Guillen told Al Jazeera. “We’ve arrived at a moment in which we were tired of being left behind … and just started reclaiming our rights. For many years we were just waiting.”

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