Colombia’s top constitutional court is set to rule in the coming days in a landmark case that could fully decriminalize abortion, a result that would provide the latest jolt to the feminist “Green Wave” movementIt has been a force for the expansion of reproductive rights throughout Latin America.
Argentina was named the world’s number one country in December. largest of the region’s nations to legalize abortion. In April, Ecuador’s top court decriminalized abortion in instances of rapeThis has allowed it to be used in more situations. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in September that criminal penalties for abortion are unconstitutionalThis legalization will be possible in a country that has had abortion legalized for over a decade. The same month, Chile’s lower chamber of congress opened debate on legislation to expand legal access to abortionIt has yet to become law.
Just four Latin American and Caribbean nations ― Argentina, Uruguay, Guyana and Cuba ― have fully legalized abortion. Colombia is among the handful that allow abortion in certain circumstances: In 2006, its Constitutional Court ruled that people could terminate pregnancies in instances of rape or incest, fetal non-viability or if the mother’s health is in jeopardy.
The advocates of wider reproductive rights say that Colombian girls and women in the poorest areas are not able to access safe abortions. They also argue that there is no way to ensure that people don’t get sent to prison for up to 54 years due to criminal sanctions. from seeking abortions ― or doctors from providing them ― even in instances when doing so is legal.
Two cases under consideration in Colombia’s Constitutional Court seek to remove abortion from the criminal code on grounds that current penalties violate constitutional guarantees of women’s rights. Instead, they ask for the court to treat reproductive rights as a matter of public health and subject to regulation in health care. Colombia could be made to stop criminalization one of the rare places ― and the first in Latin America ― to fully remove abortion from its criminal statutes, a move that would end the threat of imprisonment and could drastically improve access to safe abortion procedures for Colombians.
Potentially, the cases will also result in the legalization of abortion in all casesThe first trimester. It has until November 19th to make its rulings. Early indications indicate that at least four of the nine judges may be present. likely vote in favorTwo are in favor of decriminalization while two others strongly oppose it. One more vote would secure a victory for Colombia’s abortion rights movements.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Mariana Ardila, a lawyer for the nonprofit Women’s Link Worldwideas a lead lawyer in one of the cases. “We have a very strong lawsuit, and strong evidence presented in front of the court. … Our hopes are high, but we also know nothing is sure until it is sure.”
Victory for the Causa Justa — or Just Cause — movement, a feminist collective of more than 100 organizations and 150 individual activists that brought one of the cases, would dismantle some of the biggest barriers to abortion. This may help to expand abortion access in Chile and Honduras as well as Venezuela and Brazil, which have been long overshadowed by Catholicism and social conservatism.
“Colombia, as a major player in the region, could have ripple effects in other countries,” Ardila said. “It would be huge, and our hope is that it inspires other movements in other countries that are discussing this as well.”
“Colombia prosecutes nearly 400 criminal cases of abortion each year. Roughly 97% of those prosecutions target women from rural areas, and 13% target girls between the ages of 14 and 17.”
Waving green flags and scarves, women in Latin America’s largest and most influential countries have supercharged feminist movements across the region in recent years, calling not just for broader access to abortion and contraception but also highlighting rampant problemsDomestic violence, abuse and economic exploitation are just some of the issues that women face.
Causa justa was elected the Colombian representative in 2018. After the Constitutional Court, this group of lawyers, doctors and other public health professionals, as well as entertainers, musicians, activists and artists brought forth its case. declined to expand abortion rightsA March 2020 ruling. It was a disappointing setback for the movement, which saw the court refuse to implement the abortion ban that conservative lawyers had requested.
Ardila explained that more than 100 lawyers, including doctors and international experts, have provided supporting evidence and testimonies. CausaJusta activists organized protests on the streets, and artists and entertainment stars were also involved. produced and starred in videosThat has spread the testimonials of Colombian females across social media sites such as Instagram and TikTok.
Opponents of abortion have organised their own protests and campaigns. Public opinion polls indicate that a majority Colombians oppose any further restrictions to abortion rights.
But aside from its constitutional and public health arguments, Causa Justa’s aim is to show the court that there is a major constituency for expanded abortion access, and especially decriminalization. According to the movement, polls show that there is a majority of support for expanded abortion access. just 20%Colombians think women should face jail timeIt is legal to have an abortion. Causa Justa will be implementing strategies in the event that the court grants its request.
“Causa Justa is looking at decriminalization not only in the courts, but also in public opinion to fight a stigma in the country,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is part of the coalition. “Even after the session, we are going to continue existing as a movement. We are going to continue working.”
“Civil society organizations will play a fundamental role in implementation, as we always do in the country,” Martínez Coral said.
While data are scarce, it is possible to estimate that around 400,000 Colombian females and girls undergo abortions each year, according the a 2011 studyFrom the Guttmacher Institute. A third of all abortions result in complications each year. 70 women die annually due to botched procedures, Colombia’s Ministry of Health reported in 2014.
Only 1% to 12% of annual abortions take place within Colombia’s health system, which is heavily concentrated in its cities. These clandestine abortions, which take place in areas outside of the health system are far more common than those that occur in urban centers.
The criminalization and punishment of abortion also has disproportionate effects. The Colombian government has been prosecuting approximately 400 abortion cases each year since 2008 according to a recent study conducted by La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de Mujeres, a feminist organization that supports decriminalization. According to other research, 97% of these prosecutions are against rural women. Nearly a third of the criminal cases brought against rural women were filed by women who have been victims of gender-based or sexual violence according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. says
La Mesa’s study foundNearly a quarter (23%) of all prosecutions are against girls aged 14-17 years old, and 13% target them between those ages. Colombia is effectively “forcing its girls and adolescents to give birth or go to jail,” Paula Ávila-Guillen, the executive director of the Women’s Equality Center, wroteIn an opinion piece published in Spanish by the Washington Post in October.
“We hope that, with this decision, women can come without fear to the health care system and that we can take care of them, instead of sending them to clandestine sites or to jail,” Ardila said. “When you look into the experiences of those few countries that have [eliminated]They are actually achieving very positive results. Abortions are becoming less common over time. These are performed earlier during pregnancy. These are, of course safer. That’s what we want for Colombia.”
Due to the severe restrictions on contraceptives access for Colombian women, the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse. According to studies, this led to an increase in contraceptives access. spike in unplanned pregnancies, and the pandemic’s effects, Ardila said, only made the feminist movement’s push for broader abortion rights more urgent.
As a result, the United States made an intensifying effort against abortion. Donald Trump was the President of 2017, 2017. reinstated rulesThese restrictions prevent the U.S. from providing federal assistance to organizations that offer abortion. This further restricts access to reproductive healthcare in Latin America. In August the U.S. Supreme Court upheldA new Texas law has been adopted effectively outlaws abortion
This decision was accompanied by concerns about the Supreme Court could largely overturn Roe v. WadeAnother case, currently under review, helped to galvanize the reproductive rights movement across America.
“It has been a red flag, and a reminder for the feminist movement in Latin America,” Ardila said. “If it can happen in the United States, it can happen elsewhere. So we better move forward instead of being passive about it.”
Abortion rights have become a major issue. faced setbacksThere are parts of the area, including Nicaragua. HondurasEl Salvador, El Salvador, and Dominican Republic. A Colombian advance would signal to the rest of Latin America that large swathes are now joining. rest of the democratized world in expanding abortion rights ― even as the United States turns its back on them.
“We have an environment in the region that is [moving] towards the recognition of women’s rights,” Martínez Coral said. “The majority of the countries are moving forward for a more respectful recognition of reproductive rights.”