Social Issues

Colombia abortion decriminalization vote ends in deadlock

(Update 1: adds vote result, new information throughout, new headline, lede, edits throughout)

Bogota, Jan 20 (EFE).- A vote on Thursday by the judges of the Constitutional Court of Colombia on whether abortion should be removed from the country’s penal code resulted in a deadlock.

Four judges voted in favor of decriminalization, while another four voted against it, a source close to the court told Efe.

The court also appointed two associate judges, who are not a part of the full chamber composed of nine permanent judges appointed by Congress, who will cast the tie-breaking vote. When this will happen is unknown.

Colombian law allows for abortion under three circumstances: if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life or health at risk, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if there are life-threatening fetus deformities. Otherwise, it is punishable by up to four-and-a-half years in prison.

The Constitutional Court is considering two lawsuits to remove abortion as a crime from the penal code and decriminalize it.

However, ruling on the lawsuits was delayed in November when, two days before the deadline for the judges to make a decision, one of them, Alejandro Linares, requested recusal due to possible impartiality after making remarks on the matter to a media outlet.

Associate Judge Hernando Yepes, who is not a member of the full chamber, granted the recusal on Thursday morning but the remaining eight judges chose to continue with the vote, which was ultimately tied.

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 the court in September 2020, said that “every day that passes without eliminating the crime of abortion from the penal code is a conviction for women and girls in Colombia.”

“We hope that the Court will be diligent, prompt and effective with this decision. It cannot be that something so far-reaching that affects the life and health of women, half of the Colombian population, continues to be delayed,” Causa Justa said in a statement after the result of the vote was announced.

Civil society 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.

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 the procedure.

Abortion is the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality in the country. An estimated 400,000 abortions are carried out in Colombia each year, less than 10 percent of which are done in health institutions under appropriate conditions.

In addition, about 70 women die each year from complications during the termination of pregnancy, according to a report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on the situation in Colombia. EFE


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