Colombia’s constitutional court has partially decriminalize abortion, marking a major victory for the nation’s feminist movements and reflecting a wider shift in views toward the procedure across the region.
The country’s Court ruled in favor of legalizing abortion up until 24 weeks of a pregnancy, the supreme tribunal announced in a statement.
The Colombian Supreme Court’s ruling follows recent decisions by Mexico’s Supreme Court and Argentina’s Senate to decriminalize abortion.
Abortion in Colombia has only been legal under three circumstances: when the life or health of the woman is at risk, if the fetus has malformations that make it nonviable or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Now, women seeking an abortion up to the 24th week of their pregnancy will not face prosecution, the court ruled. Abortion after 24 weeks remains illegal, except if one of those three circumstances is present.
Since 2006, women seeking to end a pregnancy outside of those circumstances could face up to 54 months in jail under the Colombian penal code.
While jail sentences have been rare, abortion rights advocates say criminalization of the practice creates a climate of fear and suspicion between patients and the medical class, who often feel forced to report abortions to the authorities for fear of participating in a crime.
Hundreds of women in Colombia are investigated for receiving illegal abortions each year. Others resort to clandestine abortions, a pervasive and often unsafe practice across the rest of the region.
Even women who are medically entitled to an abortion have faced barriers to access treatment in Colombia. Alejandra Gutierrez, a 23-year-old cancer patient from Bogota, told CNN that her case had to go through a panel discussion between a gynecologist, a hematologist, and a psychiatrist before her request was approved.
Throughout the process, she says she received little clear information about the risks of terminating the pregnancy or carrying the baby to term amid chemotherapy treatment.
Only after three weeks and numerous interviews was she allowed to end the pregnancy.
“I felt so vulnerable, so small, and I still feel I never really got to the bottom of it. My fear was that it started to grow, inside my belly, and then it was too late, I was scared to death.”
she told CNN in November.
Beyond the law, pregnant women in Colombia have faced bureaucratic delays, negative attitudes and medical staff who refuse to carry out the procedure under a “conscientious objection” clause.
“We knew this was not an easy fight, but at some point it had to happen,”
said Mariana Ardila, an attorney for Women’s Link Worldwide, who signed the petition to decriminalize abortion.
“Of course, while we were hoping for full decriminalization, and we will keep fighting for it, this is an important step forward for us,”
Ardila told CNN, surrounded by women’s rights activists outside the court on Monday evening.