On Monday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion during the initial 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The move allows women to seek out an abortion without being prosecuted, and the court also asked Congress to make rules in order to apply the decision. 

As The New York Times reported, the Constitutional Court magistrates in Colombia have been considering two petitions combatting the part of the penal code that establishes abortion as a crime.

In one, a lawyer named Andrés Mateo Sánchez Molina said the measure violated rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to human dignity, freedom and equality,” the outlet reported, adding, “In another, brought by Causa Justa, a coalition of abortion rights groups, lawyers argued that criminalization had cast abortion in such a negative light that it prevented even women with a legal right to an abortion from getting one.”

“In some cases, the coalition said, the existence of the criminal penalty led health professionals to deny the procedure to women who qualified for it. In others, women avoided seeking abortions in legal health centers out of fear they would be jailed, instead seeking risky alternatives in underground clinics,” the Times added. 

“These barriers affect mainly women living in rural and remote areas, low-income women, adolescent girls, women and girls living in situations of armed conflict and victims of gender violence, including physical and sexual violence,” representatives of Causa Justa wrote in a summary of the petition. Making abortion a crime in the majority of situations, they claimed, was unconstitutional. 

The court chose to first hear the Causa Justa case, and the second one will be heard at a later time. The first ruling, however, is not able to be reversed.

Abortion has been allowed in Colombia since 2006 when the Constitutional Court got removed bans in situations of rape or incest, when the fetus was not able to survive due to an abnormality, or when the mother’s life or health was in danger. 

Anybody who had an abortion outside of those restrictions or anyone who assisted a woman in getting one could be sentenced to prison for 16 to 54 months. The court reportedly heard that almost 3,000 people were prosecuted for having abortions between 2006 and 2020. 

The Times reported, “Prosecutors in Colombia open about 400 cases each year against women who have abortions or people who help them, according to the attorney general’s office. At least 346 people have been convicted in such cases since 2006,” adding, “Nearly all of these abortion-related investigations have been in rural areas, involving girls as young as 11, according to researchers with Causa Justa.”

Colombia is not the only country in the region to take pro-abortion steps. Mexico’s Supreme Court made a similar move in September, and Argentina’s Congress legalized abortion in 2020.

The Washington Post reported, “Until early last year, elective abortion was legal in Latin America only in Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and parts of Mexico. Other countries allow the procedure only in cases of rape or when the health or life of the pregnant person is at risk. Seven countries prohibit it under all circumstances: El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Haiti.”

“Argentine President Alberto Fernández signed legislation last year to allow abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Mexico’s supreme court in September ruled unconstitutional a state law that imposed prison terms for people who had illegal abortions and those who aided them. The ruling is binding on other states,” the outlet added. 

Not everyone agrees with the Colombian court’s ruling, however. Per the Times, Jonathan Silva, an evangelical Christian who works with a pro-life group, said the court had overreached its power and it was something that should be decided by elected leaders.

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

Alejandro Ordóñez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, spoke out against the decision on Twitter, writing, “A State that decides to eliminate a portion of human beings, from the first day or until the 24th week, becomes genocidal and totalitarian. It hurts to see how society is subdued by the culture of death. This is an act of violence with appearances of legality.”

The Times noted that a poll by Ipsos found that only 26% of Colombian respondents were in support of abortion in all circumstances, while 82% were in support of it in some.

The decision comes as the United States moves in the opposite direction, as the topic of abortion continues to be divisive and contentious across the country with many Americans split on the issue. 

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case out of Mississippi over a law that doesn’t allow abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. The high court could choose to uphold the Mississippi law, cutting away at the precedent established by Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade. The Justices could also decide to overturn Roe entirely or to strike down the law. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the decisions regarding abortion would be returned to the states rather than made legal on a broad scale across the country. 

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