Colombia Decriminalized Abortion, Signaling a Larger Cultural Shift Across Latin America
Taking a page from fellow Latin American countries Argentina and Mexico, Colombia’s highest court officially decriminalized abortion on Monday. Colombia’s Constitutional Court decriminalized abortions for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, meaning that Colombian women can no longer face legal consequences for opting for the procedure.
This historic event has made Colombia the third majority-Catholic Latin American country to decriminalize abortion, signaling a massive regional shift regarding women’s reproductive rights and sexual health.
“What a thrill to have lived to finally see this achievement for women in Colombia!” tweeted mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López Hernández. “After the right to vote, this is the most important historical achievement for the life, autonomy and full and equal fulfillment of women.”
Unlike certain Latin American countries (the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras, to name a few), Colombia allowed abortion in certain cases, like when the mother or fetus’s life was at risk or when the pregnancy was a result of rape. But outside of those restrictions, women struggled to safely terminate their pregnancies.
According to Colombia’s health ministry, 70 women a year died from botched abortion in Colombia. 400 women a year are prosecuted due to pursuing abortions. Since 2006, 346 people have been convicted in these illegal abortion cases.
The fear and social stigma surrounding abortion prevented some women from pursuing the procedure, even if their case fell under the criteria of a “legal” reason for abortion.
But now, young feminists and activists have been organizing for years with the goal of changing laws so that Colombian women could safely access legal abortions.
The battle for abortion decriminalization in Colombia has been a long one. The fight for safe and legal abortion goes back decades. In 1977, a Colombian gynecologist named Dr. Jorge Villarreal opened up an abortion clinic in Bogotá called Oriéntame after seeing the horrors of women sick and dying from botched abortions.
But it is only in the last few years that the pro-choice fight has emerged from underground. This is due to the feminist movement in Latin America taking more space in mainstream conversations.
In a page taken from Argentina’s book, feminist activists have used social media, organized marches, donned green handkerchiefs and chanted pro-choice songs in the streets to let their message be heard.
“Part of our strategy was: How do we change the conversation in the country, how do we put this on the public agenda?” Colombian lawyer and abortion rights activist Catalina Martínez Coral told The New York Times.
But while Latin American countries move towards progress, here in the United States, women’s right to choose has become more and more restricted.
In September, a Draconian law in Texas outlawed abortion at six weeks while also incentivizing neighbors and co-workers to report fellow Texans for “aiding and abetting” abortions. Now, the Supreme Court is considering a case that might overturn the landmark ruling of Roe vs. Wade.