Colombia decriminalizes abortion in landmark decision

Bogotá, Colombia – Colombia's Constitutional Court has ruled that abortion should only be punishable when performed after the 24th week of pregnancy, effectively decriminalizing the practice in the South American country.

Pro-choice demonstrators celebrated outside the Constitutional Court in Bogotá on Monday as abortions were decriminalized in the country.
Pro-choice demonstrators celebrated outside the Constitutional Court in Bogotá on Monday as abortions were decriminalized in the country.  © Collage: IMAGO/UIG

Pro-choice activists celebrated outside the Constitutional Court in Bogotá on Monday when abortions were decriminalized after eight hours of debate.

It is a major step forward for women’s rights across the region. Previously, women could face anywhere from 16 to 54 months in prison for terminating a pregnancy that did not fall under three exceptions.

Colombia had partially legalized abortion in 2006 when a court ruled that women would be allowed to end a pregnancy in one of three situations: in case of rape or incest, in case of a fatal fetal abnormality, or if the pregnancy presents a danger to the mother's physical or mental health.

Missouri executes Kevin Johnson despite public calls for clemency
Justice Missouri executes Kevin Johnson despite public calls for clemency

The Constitutional Court on Monday reaffirmed that after 24 weeks, those same three exceptions apply.

The court also called on the Colombian government to urgently "formulate and implement a comprehensive public policy" to protect the rights and health of pregnant women, such as supporting family planning and sex education, support with adoptions, and eliminating obstacles to abortion care.

Colombia is the latest of only a slim few Latin American countries that have relaxed abortion restrictions.

Argentina passed a law in December 2020 allowing abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

Mexico's Supreme Court ruled in September that a total abortion ban was unconstitutional, although abortion rights are still not uniform across the country. Last week, Ecuador's parliament passed a law loosening laws, permitting abortions in case of rape.

In most Latin American countries, abortions are permitted only in exceptional cases. In El Salvador abortions are completely banned and punishable by imprisonment, and even miscarriages can be subject to drastic penalties.

760,000 women in Latin America are treated annually for complications from getting illegal abortions, according to reported data. The procedures have accounted for at least one in 10 maternal deaths across the region.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/UIG

More on the topic Justice: