Celebrations before new challenges after Colombia legalizes abortion

By Irene Escudero

Bogotá, Feb 22 (EFE).- The emotion of the Colombian Constitutional Court’s historic decision to decriminalize abortion up to 24 weeks continued Tuesday with celebrations of those who pushed for the change, along with the realization of the challenges that lie ahead.

Again in front of the headquarters of the court in Bogotá, but this time without the nerves accumulated during the more than 500 days spent waiting for the decision, more than 100 young women, with their characteristic green scarves, chanted: “It’s legal, it’s legal, abortion in Colombia is legal.”

“We are delivering something historic to the reproductive rights movement worldwide and we are delivering it from the Global South, from Colombia,” announced Center for Reproductive Rights regional director Catalia Martínez Coral at a press conference of the Just Cause movement for the elimination of abortion as a crime.

On Monday, with a vote of 5-4, the court decided not to remove the crime of abortion from the Penal Code, but to allow women to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancy up to 24 weeks.

In this way, Colombia adopted a mixed model, with free abortion until that date and, after that, under the clauses that have existed since 2006 (danger to the life or health of the mother, malformation of the fetus, and incest or rape).

“Yesterday’s decision is historic because it puts Colombia not only at the forefront of Latin America and the Caribbean, but of almost all regions of the world,” doctor and pioneer of Just Cause, Ana Cristina González Vélez, told Efe.

The court’s decision, which was made as with other social milestones such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage in the face of inaction by Congress or the government, has sparked criticism from sectors such as the church and from President Iván Duque.

“Today we have heard a lot of joy and many favorable voices, but we have also heard a lot of barbarity about what this means,” said González.

Between 80-85 percent of abortions in Colombia occur in the first trimester, according to Just Cause, while 10-15 percent are performed later, and only 2 percent are performed in the third trimester.

“Those who need an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy are the ones who face the most critical situations, the most difficult. The most vulnerable, the most frightened, mistreated, ignored,” said the doctor.

Before the court decision, it was estimated that less than 10 percent of the 400,000 abortions performed annually in the country happened within the health system, so the challenges that Colombia faces are immense, and above all to ensure that abortion complications are no longer the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality.

“In Colombia, most women experience barriers to access abortion services and of course those barriers are greater in rural areas because geographic access to services is more difficult,” González said.

According to the report “Unsafe abortion: women at risk,” drawn from 428 women treated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), 88 percent of patients reported having faced at least one obstacle in accessing pregnancy termination.

It is no longer just geographical difficulties, the isolation in which a large part of the Colombian rural population lives, but “serious limitations within the Colombian health system to guarantee the right to abortion, such as conscientious objection, stigma and ignorance of the legal framework or procedures and protocols,” according to MSF.

Women continue to be “exposed to situations of abuse, prejudice, breach of confidentiality and misinformation” and this adds to the already difficult decision to end a pregnancy for many women. EFE


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