Social Issues

Abortion ruling by Colombia’s Constitutional Court delayed further

Bogota, Jan 20 (EFE).- Colombia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday accepted a judge’s motion to recuse himself from a vote on whether to decriminalize abortion, a decision that further delays that high court’s ruling.

The tribunal on Thursday had resumed debate on the matter after suspending it two months ago due to the motion filed by Justice Alejandro Linares.

In his “impediment to impartiality” motion, Linares argued that he had expressed his opinion on the case to a media outlet and gave indications as to how he would vote – presumably in favor of eliminating abortion as a crime from the country’s penal code.

After the granting of that request, the presumption is that the court will now be deadlocked at 4-4 and a new associate justice will need to be designated to cast the decisive vote.

Causa Justa (Just Cause), a movement made up of more than 200 organizations, health care providers, academic, research centers and women’s rights activists that teamed with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights to bring the case before that tribunal in September 2020, said it is regrettable that the reasons for denying that request “were not heard,” although it says it respects the court’s ruling.

It nevertheless urged the high court to move quickly to decriminalize abortion, saying outlawing that procedure is “unjust and ineffective and violates the basic rights of women and health professionals.”

“In a country where access to abortion is limited and difficult due to penalization and multiple barriers to accessing the service, girls and women who live in contexts of vulnerability will continue to be disproportionately affected and criminalized,” one of Causa Justa’s spokeswomen said.

“They also are the ones who are putting their lives at risk with unsafe abortions for fear of going to the health services where they’re accused of wrongdoing,” she added.

Feminist groups gathered Thursday morning outside the Constitutional Court building to express support for their cause.

The demonstrators held up green banners with pro-choice messages and signs with the image of Lorena Gelis, a 37-year-old woman who died this year in Barranquilla after undergoing a clandestine abortion.

Abortion is only permitted in Colombia in three instances: when the life or health of the mother is at risk, when the pregnancy is the result of rape, non-consensual artificial insemination or incest and when there is the existence of life-threatening fetal malformations.

In all other cases, abortion is a crime punishable by up to four and a half years in prison.

The court is weighing different reasons for removing abortion from the penal code, including arguments that the status quo has not prevented the ongoing problem of unsafe abortions and that it is discriminatory because only women are punished for accessing that procedure.

Abortion is the fourth-leading cause of maternal mortality in Colombia, where of the estimated 400,000 abortions performed annually fewer than 10 percent take place in health facilities where a safe procedure is guaranteed. EFE


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