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Colombia: Uphold Women’s Rights in Abortion Case

Human Rights Watch Submits Brief to Constitutional Court

Women organize green cloth banners to be placed on sculptures of Colombian artist Fernando Botero during a protest in Medellin, Colombia on September 28, 2019. © 2019 Getty Images VIEWPRESS/ Fredy Builes Corbis via Getty Images
(Washington, DC) – Colombia’s Constitutional Court should uphold women’s rights in deciding a case regarding access to abortion, Human Rights Watch today. Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief in the case to the court on January 30, 2020.

In 2006, the Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling that decriminalized abortion when the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk, when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, and when the fetus has a serious condition incompatible with life outside the womb. But today, access to legal abortion still faces many barriers. The case currently pending before the court seeks to prohibit abortion altogether.

“Criminalizing abortion has had devastating effects for women’s lives across the Americas, including in Colombia,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Reversing the protections provided more than a decade ago would threaten Colombian women’s health and indeed their very lives.”

Human Rights Watch urged the court to take international human rights law, and authoritative interpretations of how it applies to abortion, into account in its decision, arguing that the plaintiff’s request to criminalize abortion is inconsistent with Colombia’s international human rights obligations. Indeed, Colombia’s laws and jurisprudence should comply with the country’s international human rights obligations to decriminalize abortion and ensure safe, legal access to abortion, at a minimum in the circumstances outlined in the 2006 decision.

Access to safe abortion is a human rights imperative, Human Rights Watch said. Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law establish that denying women and girls access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights. These include the rights to health, bodily integrity, nondiscrimination, equality, privacy, information, and the right to decide on the number and spacing of children.

United Nations human rights treaty bodies regularly call for governments to decriminalize abortion in all cases, to legalize abortion at a minimum in certain circumstances, and, in those cases, ensure access to safe abortion.

“When considering Colombia’s obligations, the court should ensure that its ruling reflects the reality for women, girls, and adolescents in Colombia who already struggle to access many health services,” Vivanco said.

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