It was not about a fight between those who are for or against abortion. It was about showing how the continuing criminal status of abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. Instead, it forces women to rely on unsafe procedures, and has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable: poor people, migrants, those living in remote areas or in areas controlled by illegal armed groups.
We did hundreds of interviews, organised dozens of public events and raised awareness. We talked to opinion leaders, journalists and politicians, and took over the streets and social media with our message and our green scarves (the symbol of the movement for legal abortion in Latin America).
Huge leap forward
Even though the constitutional court fell short of decriminalising abortion entirely (as we had requested), its final decision was to decriminalise terminations within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and, beyond this time limit, to continue with the three permitted exceptions.
This is a huge leap forward, because it establishes a reasonable time frame in which all the girls, women and pregnant people who need an abortion can access a healthcare facility – without fear of being criminalised. No longer will they have to put their health and lives at risk resorting to unsafe procedures.
Many are questioning whether the court went too far in adopting the 24-week time limit. The answer is absolutely not.
We know that when abortion is legal, the vast majority of terminations take place during the first three months of pregnancy. The few that are performed at later stages correspond to women in vulnerable situations: those living in rural areas or in places without healthcare centres, survivors of family abuse, the poorest, the unemployed, those deprived of accurate information.
Through this ruling, we will ensure that the vulnerable reach health services earlier, and that all women, without exception, have access to information and contraceptive methods and are able to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
A model for Latin America
This decision will also benefit migrant women. The court acknowledged, as we argued in our case, that criminalisation “affects differently – and disproportionately – vulnerable women, including those under irregular migratory status”. Many women from neighbouring Venezuela are fleeing their country, including with unmet sexual and reproductive healthcare needs, so this ruling becomes a model not just for Colombia but for the entire region.
We expect Colombia will again be a reference point in Latin America and the Caribbean, as it was in 2006 when the constitutional court allowed three exceptions for abortion.
We also hope that this decision will contribute to the progress made in ending the use of criminal law to regulate abortion in the region – as has happened in Argentina and, more recently, in Mexico. We are convinced that the ‘green wave’ is unstoppable.
We in Women’s Link and Causa Justa will work for this decision to be fully enforced. We will also demand an integrated public policy that enables women, girls and pregnant people to have choices and to enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights, including sex education, access to contraception and proper guarantees of a healthy pregnancy for those who want to be mothers.
Women are the ones who know what is best for them. The state must respect their decisions.
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