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Landmark Decision on Colombia Abortion Rights

Decriminalization a Victory for Health and Dignity

Abortion rights activists celebrate in front of Colombia’s Constitutional Court in Bogota, Colombia, February 21, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

Colombia’s Constitutional Court has delivered a major victory for women’s reproductive rights by decriminalizing abortion on all grounds up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion after 24 weeks will be legal in Colombia under exceptions in place since 2006: when a pregnancy poses a risk to the health or the life of the pregnant person, is nonviable, or is the result of rape.

The landmark 5-to-4 ruling puts Colombia at the forefront of an expansion of women’s reproductive rights in Latin America and the Caribbean following a series of decisions widening access to legal abortion in the region. In 2020, Argentina legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and, following a wave of legalizations in Mexico, abortion is now legal up to 12 weeks in six Mexican states.

Yesterday’s decision came about thanks to the hard-fought movement for reproductive autonomy for all women and girls in Colombia. In September 2020, Causa Justa, a movement of more than 200 organizations and activists, brought a lawsuit before Colombia’s Constitutional Court to decriminalize abortion in all cases and end ongoing violations of women’s reproductive rights. Human Rights Watch made a submission to the court urging decriminalization in line with international human rights standards.

Access to safe and legal abortion is limited and unequal in Colombia. According to the Attorney General’s Office, about 34 percent of women and girls who faced criminal investigations for abortion between 1998 and 2019 were domestic workers. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group, found in 2013 that 33 percent of women in Colombia who had clandestine abortions experienced complications requiring medical care; among rural women in poverty, the rate was up to 53 percent.  

Treating abortion as a crime does not reduce or eliminate it. Instead, it prevents people from accessing essential health care, puts their lives and health at risk, and infringes on their privacy and dignity. It undermines health providers’ ability to do their jobs with integrity and without fear and compromises patient care.

This decision is groundbreaking in its acknowledgment of women’s reproductive autonomy in line with international standards. Now the government should implement it by removing all barriers to accessing legal abortion. Women and girls in Colombia are rightly celebrating today. They deserve for this ruling to become reality.

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