Will Colombia decriminalize abortion this time?

The Constitutional Court of Colombia will start to debate the constitutionality of abortion and could ask the government to decriminalize it. In 2020, it chose not do change the law. The results could depend on the vote of only one judge.

Women protesting for the legalization of abortion
Women protesting for the legalization of abortion with green bandanas. The green wave, symbolizing the protests for a legal abortion, has been spreading in Latin America | © Sentiido, Twitter

The first round of debate between the nine judges of the Constitutional Court is scheduled to be on November 10.

They are expected to decide on the constitutionality of abortion after two judges of the Court presented arguments to convince the plenary chamber to decriminalize it. The two different but very close lawsuits have been raised by several feminist organizations.

The details of one of the presentations remained secret.

However, they both claim that abortion as a crime is an unjustified discrimination against women. The cases also argue that criminalization has become irrelevant in today’s society and that it doesn’t stop abortion. On the contrary, it forces women to abort under unsafe conditions, which would be a violation of the right to health.

Since 2006, abortion can be legal for three reasons in Colombia: an unviable pregnancy because of a malformation of the fetus, a danger for the mother’s life, rape or sexual abuse on the woman.

But if one of those conditions isn’t met, women and whoever help them may face penalties from 16 to 54 months of prison for an abortion.

In 2020, the Court chose not to decriminalize abortion

Approximately 400,000 women have an abortion every year in Colombia, it is estimated. One in three are believed to be suffering from complications after it, the news agency Efe reports.

Between 1998 and 2018, there has been 5,737 cases brought up for illegal abortions, 83% of them are still being investigated, and 8% of them ended up with a conviction. However, since the new regulations in 2006, the number of cases have skyrocketed to 400 cases every year on average.

And between 2010 and 2018, about between 14 and 38 women have been convicted of a illegal abortion every year. Minors account for 25% of the convicted.

The verdict on the constitutionality of abortion depends on the majority of votes between 9 judges.

Four judges are expected to vote in favor in decriminalization, two in favor of status quo, and three were said to be undecided. But El Espectador reports that the votes are now closer to 4 against 4, with one woman left to decide but inclined to vote for decriminalization.

In Latin America, Argentina, Mexico and Chile recently decided to decriminalize abortion. Abortion is already legal in Uruguay.

Last year, Colombia’s Constitutional Court had decided to keep the law as it was. The Court is supposed to take a decision before November 19.

Update February 21, 2022: The Constitutional Court of Colombia decriminalized abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy

Read more about Colombia

La despenalización del aborto en Colombia se debatirá en la Corte Constitucional, EFE, November 2021, Free accessLa Criminalización del Aborto en Colombia, Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres, August 2021, Free access, PDFLa ponencia que podría darle la estocada final al aborto como delito, November 2021, El Espectador, Free access

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