On Monday the 2nd of March, the Constitutional Court of Colombia decided to refrain from expanding access to abortions in the South American nation. For now, the status quo will remain where a woman can only abort a child under three circumstances: when the mother’s life is endangered, if the fetus is fatally deformed, or if the child is a product of rape. The judgment was handed down as the magistrates announced a 6-3 vote against changing the law. There has been great disappointment felt by women’s rights activists in Latin America as many had hoped a new law would set a precedent for the rest of Latin America to follow.
The case was brought to the table by a Colombian Law Professor, Natalia Bernal, who is a staunch opponent of abortion rights. She had stated, without providing any evidence, that “if abortion rights are increased, there will be many more women who are raped because the rapist knows that the State will permit women to get rid of the consequences.” To contrast, Aixa Mejilla, 18, grew up in a home for girls with families in difficult circumstances and doesn’t think women should be forced to have children if they are not able to care for them. Judge Alejandro Linares headed the proposed amendment declaring that “the current law preserves the idea that the role of the woman is for reproduction, they should have the autonomy over their own body and this should not be with the state.”
The decision made by the Constitutional Court has unfortunately been a missed opportunity for the rights of women in Latin America. As many experts view Colombia as a trendsetter throughout the region, the ramifications of the judgment being in favour of changing outdated laws would have been significant. Instead, the same laws will dictate the lives of women in the South American country. While this news is disheartening, it is important to note that the support for the decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia is tough as the country is made up largely of Catholics who are against abortion rights, including Colombian President Ivan Duque. All hope for there to be a change within the region should not be lost as a similar process is starting in Argentina, however, unlike in Colombia, the Argentine President supports the abortion bill which will be presented.
Between the period of 1998 and 2019, there has been a reported amount of 400,000 abortion, while only around 6,000 have accrued criminal sanctions. The Colombian Health ministry indicates that there as many as 70 deaths from unsanctioned abortions each year. This could be combated through the legalisation of abortion within the country.
Abortion laws in Latin America are still quite archaic, as Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana are the only countries to have absolute legalisation of the procedure, in addition to the state of Mexico City and the Mexican State of Oaxaca. In many Central American states, abortion is banned completely, regardless of any circumstance, with there being extreme penalties for being involved in the action.
The subjugation of women under the law of the state will largely remain the same throughout Latin America through this judgment. The Colombian Constitutional Court is seen as a trendsetter in the region, and therefore this decision means that laws will likely remain the same throughout other Latin American countries. Now attention will turn to Argentina as a beacon for the advocacy for women’s rights and whether a new abortion law will be developed.