Figure 1: Strike to Legalise Abortion in Colombia. Colprensa photography.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court legalizes abortion until 24 weeks of gestation in historical voting on the 21st of February.
The Constitutional Court voted five against four to decriminalize this practice, becoming the first country in the region to allow abortion until 24 weeks of gestation. This represents one of the biggest wins for the Green Wave, the Feminist movement that fights for the right to abortion in Latin America. “The Green Wave is strong and growing, and the fight for reproductive rights and justice will not end until every person can access high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare when and where they need it,” stated Eugenia Lopez Uribe, International Planned Parenthood Federation’s regional director for Americas and the Caribbean region.
After a lawsuit was filed in 2020 by “Causa Justa” - a Colombian women’s rights coalition - asking to remove this procedure from the penal code, many debates were held by feminist groups and the so-called pro-life groups, making abortion one of the main subjects on the political and social agenda. For Ana Cristina González, doctor, representative of Causa Justa and founder of the Table for the Life and Health of Women, “the article that we had sued was declared invalid. This great achievement has been the result of enormous collective work by women and organizations throughout the country. Today we are at the forefront of Latin America and many countries of the world”.
Abortion was already allowed in Colombia under three circumstances: risk to the life or health of the pregnant mother, life-threatening fetal malformations, and pregnancy as a result of rape. However, feminist groups throughout the country always claimed the unfairness of this law, pointing out that it discriminates against women who also need to have access to a safe abortion, but are not covered by these conditions.
Colombian women and the struggle for abortion
Colombia, a South American country with a strong Catholic tradition, has been, since the 80s, trying to open the conversation to easy and safe access to abortion. Something challenging for feminist associations if we consider that 80% of Colombian homes are religious. But it was in 2006 that lawyer Monica Roa gave women the power to control their bodies, when she led the first movement that opened the way to a new abortion law under three conditions. A law that ruled abortions until these days.
However, access to this procedure was complicated for most women, especially those in rural areas, with less economic facilities or less education, revealing a long tradition of discrimination and inequalities lived by a vast majority in the country. According to Profamilia, a reproductive rights group, only 10% of abortions were carried out legally, meaning that 90% of women who decided to abort would risk sanctions. Causa Justa estimates that around 350 women were convicted or sanctioned for abortions between 2006 and 2019, some of them being under 18-year-old girls.
The internal armed conflict that emerged in the 60's, and lasted for more than 50 years, accentuated these inequalities. Women’s bodies were taken as war weapons and the violence suffered reduced their chances to control their reproductive rights and, therefore, the course of their lives. A new law was the only conceivable way to regain freedom and control over their bodies.
Figure 2: Activists show their Green Bandana, Symbol of Abortion Regulation in May 2019 in Argentina. El Pais Photography.
Latin America and the long road to abortion
Access to abortion in the region has been moving slowly, but considerable progress has been seen in recent years. Colombia becomes the third country in the region to make a major move towards women’s freedom. This decision comes after Argentina, in 2020, allowed women to have access to safe and free abortion until week 14. In Mexico, the supreme court declared it unconstitutional to criminalize abortion in 2021. And countries like Ecuador, Cuba, Uruguay and Brazil allow abortion under certain circumstances.
Nevertheless, according to The Center for Reproductive Rights, “Latin America and the Caribbean are home to some of the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in the world. In El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua,
Dominican Republic, and Suriname, abortion is completely illegal—with no exception”. These countries are now the focus of the feminist movements, especially since “the Latin America and Caribbean region is the only one in the world where the number of girls under 15 giving birth continues to rise”, as stated by The Center for Reproductive Rights.
The long road towards safe abortion in Latin America has been led by the green wave, a powerful feminist movement present in the region, which fights for free and safe abortion for all women and girls. Easy recognizable by their green bandana, the movement has pushed many conversations about abortion and has made it a central subject on the Latin-American feminist agenda. Even though the feminist fight is far from being over, their latest wins are proof of the echo of their ideas and the need for a change on this continent.
Figure 1: Colprensa. (2022, February 22). Strike to Légalise Abortion in Colombia [Photograph]. Colprensa. https://www.elcolombiano.com/colombia/politica/reaccion-de-politicos-a-la-despenalizacion-del-aborto-en-colombia-PD16623059
Figure 2: Activists show their Green Bandana, Symbol of Abortion Regulation in May 2019 in Argentina. (2020, March 5). [Photograph]. El Pais. https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020-03-04/el-feminismo-encauza-la-politica-en-america-latina.html
Center for Reproductive Rights. (2020, July). An Examination of Reproductive violence against women and girls during the armed conflict in Colombia. https://reproductiverights.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/ENG-FULL-Reproductive-Violence-Conflict-Colombia.pdf
Colombia decriminalizes abortion. (2022, February 22). IPPF. https://www.ippf.org/news/colombia-decriminalizes-abortion
Goldberg, J. (2021, March 31). They Are Girls: Reproductive Rights Violations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Center for Reproductive Rights. https://reproductiverights.org/they-are-girls-reproductive-rights-violations-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/