Colombia’s Constitutional Court is studying the legalization of abortion after an anti-abortion activist filed a petition for a blanket ban.
Reports about magistrate Alejandro Linares’ proposal to legalize abortion during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy triggered a highly emotional public debate in the predominantly Catholic country.
While anti-abortion activists are up in arms about what would be the most liberal abortion legislation in Latin America, women’s rights activists are thrilled.
An anti-abortion petition gone wrong
Linares was designated to study the petition of anti-abortion activist Natalia Bernal for a blanket ban on abortion, which is currently allowed in the cases a pregnancy is the result of rape, it threatens the woman’s life or would result in the birth of a child with life-threatening malformations.
The magistrate’s revision of the constitution, however, led him in the opposite direction.
While studying the constitutional amendment request,
the magistrate asked the prosecution to surrender a report analyzing, among other things, whether the criminalization of abortion doesn’t violate women’s sexual autonomy and reproductive rights.
Linares requested the Health Ministry, the World Health Organization and family planning institute Profamilia for statistics on abortion, and problems that Colombian women and health workers may encounter if they want to abort a pregnancy.
Last but not least, the magistrate wanted advice on what would be an ethical time limit for abortions.
This highly-charged ethical question led Linares to propose to the other members of the court to legalize all voluntary abortions upto 16 weeks after conception.
Colombia’s abortion mess
Some 400,400 Colombian women and girls had an abortion in the preceding year. Only 322 of them were reported as legal, meaning that 99.9% of abortions would have been performed outside the law, according to a study by reproductive health policy institute Guttmacher.
The lack of regulation has created a mess. While some hospitals perform abortions based on physicians’ personal moral convictions, others refuse to perform abortions even if they are constitutionally legal.
According to newspaper El Espectador, more than 1,100 women are facing criminal charges for having carried out abortions, often filed by physicians and in some cases despite being legal.
According to Guttmacher, one third of women and girls who carried out clandestine abortions suffered complications that required medical care.
The abortion issue is highly controversial in Colombia, which is predominantly Catholic and where the church openly encourages Congress to defy the constitution.
Meanwhile, women’s rights organization are increasingly vocal in their opposition to the church.
The vast majority of women and girls, in the meantime, are taking their own decisions, despite the legal and health risks.