Courts Global Reproductive Rights

Colombia Could Pave the Way for Abortion Access in Latin America

In the coming days, a high court in Colombia could rule to legalize abortion within the first few months of pregnancy. In a region known for restrictive abortion laws, this could be a landmark decision in Latin America.

Generally seen as a regional legal trendsetter, the Colombian high court could shift abortion access in an area inundated historically and culturally in the Catholic tradition. Natalia Bernal, a law professor adamantly against abortion rights, sought a total ban against abortion and brought the case before the court that reignited discussion about the issue. Bernal said that a decision ruling in favor of abortion access would be “irresponsible.”

Bernal had asked the court to ban abortion in all cases and eliminate the few instances in Colombian law in which women could legally obtain an abortion. Instead, the court decided to consider the broad legalization of the practice.

Although Colombia’s Constitutional Court is considered one of the most liberal in South America, the decision the court will take is still unclear. Judge Alejandro Linares proposed that the court could legalize abortion within the first four months of pregnancy and argued that forcing a woman to have a child is tantamount to forcing a woman to give up control of her body to others, including the nation-state. Five of the nine judges must agree with Judge Linares’ interpretation.

The Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 that abortion is allowable in three circumstances only: if the mother’s life is in danger, if a fetus has serious health issues, and if the pregnancy resulted from rape. Six judges reportedly support this 2006 decision, but their willingness to go further is uncertain.

Paula Avila-Guillen, a Colombian lawyer and abortion advocate, pointed to the limited access of even these three legal exceptions for women who reside in poor areas. Back-door procedures are common, and the consequences for women can range from prison sentences to death as a result of a botched abortion.

Sources: New York Times, 3/1/20; The World News, 3/2/20.

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