Colombia’s constitutional court on Friday ordered the country’s justice ministry, the prosecution and health experts to justify why abortion would be a crime.
The top court summoned the opinions of the authorities and experts after it was asked to fully criminalize the voluntary termination of pregnancy also in cases that are currently legal.
Regulation attempt blowback
The lawsuit followed a court-ordered policy proposal by Health Minister Juan Pablo Uribe to regulate legal abortions after Congress disobeyed the court.
Abortion in Colombia is illegal unless a pregnancy is the result of rape, threatens the life of the pregnant woman or girl, or would result in the birth of a child with life-threatening malformations.
Uribe sought to obligate hospitals and health intermediaries to have trained personnel to carry out abortions in these exceptional cases that were decriminalized in 2006.
An anti-abortion activist subsequently asked the court for a blanket ban on abortion, claiming that the exceptions are inciting the sexual abuse of minors and forced abortions, and shield child rapists from criminal prosecution.
Health service abortion facilities cause rapists to continue raping their minor victims.
Anti-abortion activist Natalia Bernal
Criminalization attempt blowback
The legal arguments put forward by the anti-abortion activist triggered magistrate Alejandro Linares to inquire why abortion is illegal in the first place.
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, indicating Linares is considering amplifying women’s rights in regards to abortion.
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.