Colombia’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy on Monday in a landmark ruling for the Catholic-majority country, one of the few in Latin America that currently allows the procedure.
“An abortion will only be punished if it is performed after the 24th week of pregnancy,” the Constitutional Court said in a statement.
After this point, abortion will only be permitted in certain circumstances already approved by the court, such as cases of rape, if the mother’s health is in danger or if the fetus is in a fatal condition.
Prior to Monday’s ruling, abortion was only permitted under those three conditions, according to a 2006 decision by the Constitutional Court.
Regardless of these exceptions, both women and doctors who have performed abortions will face prison terms of between 16 and 54 months.
Hundreds of pro- and anti-abortion protesters gathered outside a courthouse in the capital, Bogota.
Women in green scarves, the color of the pro-abortion movement, were celebrated as a 5-4 court vote to decriminalize abortion was announced. Nearby, anti-abortion protesters waved blue flags and knelt on the ground in prayer.
Qué emoción haber vivido para ver al fin este logro para las mujeres en Colombia! Después del derecho al sufragio, este es el logro histórico más importante para la vida, la autonomía y la realización plena e igualitaria de las mujeres. Gracias Mujeres! Embed Tweet https://t.co/2VprcEolbq
Claudia Lopez Hernandez (@ClaudiaLopez) February 21, 2022 “After the suffrage, this is the most important historical achievement, for the life, independence and full and equal realization of women,” tweeted Bogotá Mayor Claudia Lopez.
Colombia is now the fifth country in Latin America to decriminalize abortion, along with Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana.
In Mexico, the procedure is authorized for up to 12 weeks in southern Oaxaca, eastern Veracruz, central Hidalgo, and in Mexico City.
“Colombia is at the forefront of reproductive rights regionally and globally,” Catalina Martinez, a lawyer with the Cosa Justa organization, told AFP.
Cosa Justa sued Colombia over the unconstitutionality of abortion penalties. The Constitutional Court examined the group’s arguments for its ruling.
Abortion Obstacles: According to information collected by Cosa Justa, around 5,500 investigations into alleged abortions have been conducted since 1998. About 250 women have been arrested as a result of the investigations.
The feminist association Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres said that since the initial decriminalization in 2006 through 2019, 346 women were punished for abortion, including 85 minors.
There are 24 women currently in prison for miscarriages, according to prison authorities.
The Catholic Church and other religious groups in Colombia have repeatedly opposed the decriminalization of abortion.
“It’s a decision that goes against life, family and society,” Marilyn Herrera, one of the anti-abortion protesters outside the courtroom, told AFP.
Women’s groups say there are many obstacles to the procedure, even if pregnancy is one of the categories allowed by the 2006 ruling.
Among the difficulties they claim is the delay in the health centers that allow the operation to be performed. Some doctors also object to performing abortions, forcing many women to undergo illegal surgery.
No organization has an official figure on the number of illegal abortions performed in Colombia annually. A 2014 Ministry of Health study estimates that 70 women die and 132,000 suffer complications from “unsafe abortion” annually.