Colombia becomes latest Latin American country to legalize abortion

Colombia became the latest country in Latin America to partially decriminalize abortion on Monday, marking a major victory for the nation’s feminist movements and reflecting a wider shift in views toward the procedure across the region.

The country’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of legalizing abortion up until 24 weeks of a pregnancy, the supreme tribunal announced in a statement.

Abortion rights advocates reacted on Monday with marches in Bogota, the capital, and other major cities, having campaigned for two decades to remove abortion from the country’s criminal code.

Abortion rights activists celebrate the court's decision in Bogota on Monday.

Abortion rights activists celebrate the court’s decision in Bogota on Monday.

The Colombian Supreme Court’s ruling follows recent decisions by Mexico’s Supreme Court and Argentina’s Senate to decriminalize abortion.

Abortion in Colombia has only been legal under three circumstances: when the life or health of the woman is at risk, if the fetus has malformations that make it nonviable or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Now, women seeking an abortion up to the 24th week of their pregnancy will not face prosecution, the court ruled.

Abortion after 24 weeks remains illegal, except if one of those three circumstances is present. Since 2006, women seeking to end a pregnancy outside of those circumstances could face up to 54 months in jail under the Colombian penal code. 

While jail sentences have been rare, abortion rights advocates say criminalization of the practice creates a climate of fear and suspicion between patients and the medical class, who often feel forced to report abortions to the authorities for fear of participating in a crime.

Hundreds of women in Colombia are investigated for receiving illegal abortions each year. Others resort to clandestine abortions, a pervasive and often unsafe practice across the rest of the region.

Even women who are medically entitled to an abortion have faced barriers to access treatment in Colombia.

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