Colombia decriminalizes abortion through the 24th week

By Dave Andrusko

Bogota, ColombiaBy the slimmest of margins, Colombia’s Constitutional Court voted 5-4 on Monday to decriminalize abortion during the first 24 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, celebrated the decision. Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director of the CRR, told The Guardian “This is a historic decision for Latin America and the Caribbean, and will serve as a beacon for the constitutional and supreme courts of the region.”

By contrast, The Washington Post reported

Alejandro Ordóñez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, on Monday criticized the court’s decision via Twitter, saying a state “that decides to eliminate a portion of human beings, from the first day or until the 24th week, becomes genocidal and totalitarian.”

“’It hurts to see how society is subjugated by the culture of death,” he added. “This is an act of violence with appearances of legality.”

The Associated Press quoted Jonathan Silva, an activist for the pro-life group United for Life, who 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.”

Since 2006, abortion has been legal in Colombia in cases of rape, nonviable pregnancy and when the life or health of the mother was in danger.

The Court was legally obligated to issue a ruling on abortion by mid-November 2021 but “the decision was delayed after a judge requested a recusal for comments he publicly made about the subject,” reported Samantha Schmidt and Diana Duran of The Washington Post. “The remaining eight judges were evenly split, forcing the court to assign two additional judges to break the tie — one for each of the two lawsuits before the court.”

On Monday, one of these tiebreaking judges voted in favor of expanding access, leading to a 5-to-4 vote to allow abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The court also asked Congress to create regulations to apply the ruling.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court is “considered by many legal experts to be more liberal than the country at large,” and “many recent liberal shifts resulted from the court’s decisions,” The New York Times reported.

The decision comes at a particularly volatile time in Colombia, according to The Times.

Today, the country is ramping election, in which all of these issues — and abortion — are on the table. A large number of candidates are in the running, but a leftist former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, is leading in the polls. If elected, he would be the furthest left president in the country’s history.

But even among the candidates on the left, there is little agreement on exactly how abortion should be handled — an important item to consider, given that a new president would choose a health minister who would lay out the administrative landscape for abortion under the new legal framework.