BOGOTÁ, Colombia, February 21st, 2022 — Today, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled to expand the rights of Colombian women and girls to obtain — and of health care professionals to legally provide — safe, legal abortion care for any reason and without legal barriers to access within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The three exceptions for which Colombia legally permitted abortion prior to today’s decision — in cases of rape or incest, fetal nonviability, and to protect the life and health of the woman — continue to remain in place for those seeking to obtain abortion care beyond 24 weeks of gestation.
Women’s Link Worldwide, one of the leading organizations of Causa Justa case, salutes this landmark decision by the Court, which represents another important victory in Latin America’s “green wave” women’s rights movement and a critical advancement for the rights of women, girls and health care personnel in Colombia.
“Today’s ruling is an important step forward in allowing Colombian women and girls greater access to legal, safe and dignified abortion care, without fear of punishment and without having to resort to unsafe abortions. This ruling puts Colombia as the country with the most advanced legislation in Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Mariana Ardila, Women’s Link Worldwide managing attorney and one of the leading plaintiffs in the case. “While this is a landmark decision for Colombia and for the surrounding region, Colombia's Constitutional Court missed an excellent opportunity to be at the forefront of the world by regulating abortion outside of criminal law and to treat it as a public health issue.”
While the Court has not removed abortion from the Criminal Code, the debate and popular mobilization related to this case show that public opinion is more and more opposed to using threats of jail time as a means of regulating health care services like abortion.
“Using criminal laws to regulate abortion is still ineffective, counterproductive, unfair, discriminatory, and harmful,” said Ardila. “Causa Justa and Women’s Link will keep up the fight to eliminate these laws and protect the women and girls who need it most.”
Any regulation of abortion must take into account the daily realities and lived experiences of all women and girls in Colombia, particularly those impacted by multiple inequalities, stress advocates. Causa Justa leaders urge health providers to ensure every woman or girl seeking to end a pregnancy is able to receive prompt, unobstructed access to abortion care — pointing to the numerous structural, geographic and socio-economic barriers still preventing many from accessing abortion and other essential, time-sensitive and legally available health care services.
“It is one thing to seek an abortion in a major city like Bogotá, and quite another to seek one in a remote region,” said Ardila. “Women and girls with limited education, poor women, victims of violence, women who are part of racial or ethnic minority groups, and women living in rural areas often end up seeking abortions later in pregnancy because they lack information, resources and access to health care facilities. They must not be left out or forgotten.”
A culmination of more than 15 years of work by Women’s Link Worldwide and local partners in the region, Colombia’s landmark ruling is emblematic of the current moment of tremendous change in Latin America, a region where, with a few exceptions, there is a trend to reduce the use of criminal law to regulate abortion. In December 2020, Argentina legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Recently, México's Supreme Court ruled that total criminalization of abortion is unconstitutional.
“Using creative legal strategies, Women’s Link and other rights defenders have successfully fought for change on behalf of women and girls across the global south — overcoming numerous barriers including unfriendly courts, resistance from lawmakers, social stigmas, misinformation and a need to shift public opinion and challenge outdated cultural attitudes and norms related to the rights of women and girls,” said Ardila. “Abortion and reproductive rights defenders in the United States could benefit significantly from adopting some of the lessons learned in recent decades by women’s rights advocates in Latin America.”
Click here to find resources provided by Women’s Link Worldwide to assist in your reporting on this issue, including:
- Press release from the Constitutional Court of Colombia: https://bit.ly/3BLEhDk
- The full text of the Causa Justa lawsuit (in Spanish): https://bit.ly/2ZtFH6u
- Case synopsis: https://bit.ly/3EmmJ0P
- Personal stories from women in Colombia whose lives have been affected by restrictions on abortion access: https://bit.ly/3GwHHvZ
- Timeline of the 15-year fight fo expand abortion rights in Colombia: https://bit.ly/3Guwqfn
- Attorneys litigating the case, international human rights law experts and legal scholars available for interview: https://bit.ly/3bj1VLb
- Facts about the current state of abortion rights and access within Colombia: https://bit.ly/3c09cjf
- Causa Justa brief: https://bit.ly/3D2t6pH
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