(BOGOTA, Colombia) — Colombia became the latest country in Latin America to expand access to abortion Monday as the nation’s Constitutional Court voted to legalize the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy.
Nine judges from the tribunal ruled against the pro-choice groups, who had sought to decriminalize abortion in Colombia. But it was nevertheless described as a historic event by women’s rights groups, which estimate 400,000 women get clandestine abortions in the country each year.
Before the ruling, Colombia allowed abortions only when a woman’s life was in danger, a fetus had malformations or a pregnancy resulted from rape.
Colombian women will now be allowed to have abortions up to the 24th week without needing to give any reason. Abortion will be restricted after the 24th week.
“We were trying to get the complete decriminalization of abortion … but this is still a historic step,” said Cristina Rosero, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, an advocacy group that was one of five organizations that filed a lawsuit in 2020 to get the high court to review Colombia’s abortions laws.
Plaintiffs argued that abortion restrictions discriminate against low-income women because they have less access to lawyers, psychologists and doctors who can help them prove that pregnancies pose a risk to their health.
Rosero indicated that changes to Colombian laws will allow people with lower incomes to have access to abortions.
“Our challenge now is to ensure that this ruling is implemented” she said.
Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, and Cuba all allow abortions until certain stage of pregnancy. Mexico recently declared that women are not allowed to be tried for termination.
Latin America has a number of countries which prohibit pregnancy termination without exception.
Colombia is home to a large number of Roman Catholics, so abortion has been controversial in Colombia. Judges met several times to review the lawsuit filed by women’s rights groups without voting on it. Pro-choice organizations waved green flags and fought back against blue-clad pro-lifers.
Jonathan Silva, an activist for the pro-life group United for Life, said he was surprised by Monday’s decision. “We don’t understand how this happened” he said. “But we will have to stage protests, and call on members of congress to regulate abortion.”
According to a Colombian poll, 25% considered abortion a crime. 42% agreed with this statement. Women who have an illegal abortion in Colombia can spend up to three years behind bars.