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Colombia Decriminalizes Abortion, Bolstering Development Throughout Area

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Having an abortion is now not against the law beneath Colombian regulation, the nation’s high courtroom dominated on Monday, in a call that paves the way in which for the process to develop into broadly accessible throughout this traditionally conservative, Catholic nation.

The ruling by Colombia’s Constitutional Court docket follows years of organizing by girls throughout Latin America for larger protections and extra rights, together with entry to abortion, and vital shifts within the area’s authorized panorama.

Mexico’s Supreme Court docket decriminalized abortion in a similar decision in September and Argentina’s Congress legalized the procedure in late 2020. Colombia’s choice implies that three of the 4 most populous nations in Latin America have now opened the door to extra widespread entry to abortion.

It additionally comes as the US has been shifting in the wrong way, with abortion restrictions multiplying throughout the nation, and the U.S. Supreme Court docket considering a case that might overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional proper to abortion

“This places Colombia on the vanguard in Latin America,” stated Mariana Ardila, a Colombian lawyer with Girls’s Hyperlink Worldwide, a part of the coalition that introduced considered one of two instances difficult the criminalization of abortion. “That is historic.”

The courtroom’s choice decriminalizes abortions within the first 24 weeks of being pregnant, and implies that any lady ought to have the ability to search the process from a well being skilled with out concern of felony prosecution. It additionally units the stage for the Colombian authorities to control the method additional.

The transfer is a part of a cultural sea change throughout Latin America, spurred by grass-roots feminist actions and a youthful, extra secular era.

In a area traditionally recognized for its Catholic religion and social conservatism, a rising push for girls’s rights and abortion entry gained prominence somewhat greater than a yr in the past when Argentina turned the biggest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion.

Quickly, abortion rights supporters throughout the area, from Mexico to Paraguay, Brazil to Colombia, have been carrying or brandishing inexperienced handkerchiefs — the image of Argentina’s abortion rights motion — to indicate their solidarity with girls’s sexual and reproductive rights. The handkerchiefs turned symbols of the work that girls’s rights attorneys and activists had been doing extra quietly for years.

The Argentina choice reverberated throughout Latin America, displaying that it was potential to legalize abortion in nations with sturdy Catholic and evangelical Protestant beliefs and a historical past of patriarchal beliefs.

In September, Mexico’s Supreme Court docket dominated that it was unconstitutional to make abortion against the law, serving to to clear the way in which for the legalization of the process within the nation of about 130 million individuals.

The Constitutional Court docket magistrates in Colombia thought of over the previous few months two petitions that challenged the portion of the penal code that made abortion against the law.

In one, a lawyer named Andrés Mateo Sánchez Molina stated the measure violated rights protected by the Structure, together with the suitable to human dignity, freedom and equality.

In another, introduced by Causa Justa, a coalition of abortion rights teams, attorneys argued that criminalization had forged abortion in such a unfavourable mild that it prevented even girls with a authorized proper to an abortion from getting one.

In some instances, the coalition stated, the existence of the felony penalty led well being professionals to disclaim the process to girls who certified for it. In others, girls prevented looking for abortions in authorized well being facilities out of concern they’d be jailed, as an alternative looking for dangerous options in underground clinics.

“These limitations have an effect on primarily girls dwelling in rural and distant areas, low-income girls, adolescent ladies, girls and ladies dwelling in conditions of armed battle and victims of gender violence, together with bodily and sexual violence,” representatives of Causa Justa wrote in a abstract of their petition. Making the process against the law in most circumstances, they argued, was subsequently unconstitutional.

In the end, the courtroom determined to listen to the Causa Justa case first. The second case shall be heard at a later date, however the first choice can’t be reversed.

A whole bunch of abortion rights supporters and dozens of their opponents stood exterior the courthouse in Bogotá awaiting a call on Monday afternoon.

In current months, either side have carried out dueling public campaigns to attempt to sway the choice, and their rallies got here to represent the nation’s cultural divide on the problem.

Girls within the crowd danced with inexperienced handkerchiefs over their head because the information moved by the gang, prompting Jonathan Silva, 32, to stroll away angrily. An evangelical Christian who works for Unidos Por La Vida, an anti-abortion group, Mr. Silva stated the courtroom had overstepped its energy and it was a call that ought to be made by elected officers.

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

Till now, abortions had been authorized solely in restricted circumstances, laid out by a 2006 Constitutional Court docket choice: when a lady’s well being was in danger, when a fetus had severe well being issues or when a being pregnant resulted from rape. Anybody else who had an abortion — or who helped a lady receive one — might be sentenced to 16 to 54 months in jail.

Abortion rights activists typically stated that this authorized panorama created a two-tier system: Wealthier girls in cities may get an abortion as a result of they knew use one of many exceptions specified by the regulation, whereas poorer girls with much less training had restricted data or means to take action.

Prosecutors in Colombia open about 400 instances every year towards girls who’ve abortions or individuals who assist them, in response to the legal professional basic’s workplace. A minimum of 346 individuals have been convicted in such instances since 2006.

Practically all of those abortion-related investigations have been in rural areas, involving ladies as younger as 11, in response to researchers with Causa Justa.

Unlawful abortions will be unsafe and trigger about 70 deaths a yr in Colombia, according to the nation’s well being ministry.

A current survey by the nonpartisan firm Ipsos discovered that whereas 82 p.c of Colombian respondents supported abortion in some circumstances, simply 26 p.c supported it in all instances — and the courtroom’s choice is more likely to trigger friction as abortion rights activists, policymakers, well being care suppliers and others decide the way it ought to be carried out.

The choice can’t be altered by different authorized our bodies.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court docket is taken into account by many authorized specialists to be extra liberal than the nation at massive, and lots of current liberal shifts, together with the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2016, resulted from the courtroom’s choices.

The courtroom can be thought of a authorized trendsetter within the area, stated Francisco Bernate, a regulation professor on the College of Rosario in Bogotá, and the choice is more likely to entice the eye of judges throughout Latin America.

Activists in the US are additionally following the adjustments within the area.

“These struggles are linked,” stated Serra Sippel, the chief world advocacy officer at Fos Feminista, an alliance of reproductive rights teams that works around the globe, together with in the US. “We within the U.S. can actually study rather a lot.”

Sofía Villamil and Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.

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