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Colombia is the latest Latin American country to decriminalise abortion

The Constitutional Court’s decision to legalise the procedure within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy follows a growing trend across the region, which is renowned for its deeply conservative values.

Adding to a recent string of legal victories for reproductive rights in Latin America, Colombia’s top court on constitutional matters has just ruled that having an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy will no longer be considered a crime under the country’s law.

Since 2006, it has been allowed only where there was a risk to the life or health of the mother; the existence of life-threatening foetal malformations; or when the child was the result of rape, incest, or non-consensual artificial insemination.

Following in the footsteps of Mexico and Argentina, both of which have announced rulings against the prosecution of women who terminate their pregnancies, the landmark decision further paves the way for the procedure to become widely accessible throughout Latin America.

It additionally sets a precedent for adaptation across the historically conservative region, which has long been permeated with stringent abortion laws that, in some cases, have led to incarceration for those violating them.

‘We celebrate this ruling as a historic victory for the women’s movement in Colombia that has fought for decades for the recognition of their rights,’ says Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

‘Women, girls and people able to bear children are the only ones who should make decisions about their bodies. Now, instead of punishing them, the Colombian authorities will have to recognise their autonomy over their bodies and their life plans.’

Up until this point, the absence of legal abortion has meant that millions of teenagers across Latin America have been forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

That, or terminate them clandestinely, as at least 26,223 Colombian women did during 2020, according to non-profit organisation Profamilia which also found unsafe abortions to be causing about 70 deaths a year.

The issue is especially prevalent in poorer and rural areas, where women face a labyrinth of legal and physical obstacles, and stigmatisation that make safe access to the procedure virtually impossible.

This has brought about an ever-growing push for reform from feminist ‘green wave’ campaigners, which have gained international recognition late for challenging societies plagued by hostile attitudes towards women’s bodies.

The tireless work of these activists is arguably to thank for influencing this symbolic step forward for women’s rights, especially as other countries begin to look into introducing similar changes.

‘We celebrate with Colombia’s Green Wave movement as the country becomes the third Latin American country to decriminalise abortion in the last two years,’ says Paula Avila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center.

‘We know this will have a ripple effect in other countries in Latin America that have yet to take this step toward human rights and social justice.’

‘It’s a ground-breaking moment and a long-overdue guarantee of reproductive rights and dignity for all those who need abortion care, especially poor and rural women, who bear the brunt of restrictive abortion policies.’