Colombia Legalizes Abortion

Leslie Magdalena, Colombian human rights activist, shows support of the abortion legalization legislation. Photo courtesy of Leslie Magdalena.

Kelly Diaz-Rios / Contributing Writer

Colombia is now one of the few countries in Latin America to decriminalize abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

This ruling on Feb. 21 made Colombia the third most populated country to open the doors for access to abortion.

In September 2020, over 90 advocacy groups filed a lawsuit to review Colombia’s abortion laws and the constitutional court was legally obligated to issue a ruling in mid-November 2021. 

The lawsuit argued about the barriers that the regulations created especially in low-income areas.

However, the decision was delayed due to Judge Linares requesting a withdrawal for expressing his position in favor of the decriminalization on Semana TV.

When the final votes were confirmed, large crowds of activists gathered on the streets of Bogota, waving green scarves, inspired by an earlier generation of activists known as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore white handkerchiefs to protest the kidnaps and killings of children by the Argentine dictatorship.

Leslie Magdalena, Colombian human rights activist, wears a green scarf in support of the legislation. Photo courtesy of Leslie Magdalena.

Jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs, “It’s legal, it’s legal, abortion in Colombia is legal,” advocates celebrated their work to decriminalize abortion. 

Since 2006, abortions had been legal only in extreme circumstances, outlined in the Colombian Penal Code.

Women seeking to terminate pregnancy outside of health risk, the fetus having health problems or a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault could have faced up to 54 months of sentencing.

On the day of legalization, one of the tie-breaking judges voted in favor of expanding access in a 5-to-4 decision decriminalizing abortion in all of Colombia.

“I am happy to hear about the new law – this certainly has to be seen in the context of a broad and powerful feminist movement on the entire continent that has worked relentlessly over the last decade,” stated Susanne Zwingel, international relations professor at FIU, in an email exchange with PantherNOW.

Before, abortion had only been legal in the Latin American countries of Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and parts of Mexico. 

Advocates anticipate that Colombia’s court decision will strengthen the pursuit of abortion rights in other countries. 

Zwingel explained how feminist movements “have eventually had enough influence for this to affect the legislative process in many states (including Chile and Argentina – in Argentina, it took two rounds, as the law was stopped by the Senate the first time).” 

Although Colombia has shown signs of a turning point, abortion rights advocates still have opponents.

Iván Duque, Colombia’s president, berated the Court’s ruling on Feb. 22.

“I am worried that abortion, which goes against life, will become a regular practice,” he said in an interview with La FM, a Colombian radio station.  

Alejandro Ordóñez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, denounced the court’s decision on Twitter

Ordóñez asserted that a country “that decides to eliminate a portion of human beings, from the first day or until the 24th week, becomes genocidal and totalitarian.”

Arguments like these motivated reformers to protest by marching around the bustling streets of Colombia, dressed in silk green scarves, in efforts to push legalization. 

Leslie Magdalena, Colombian human rights activist, wears a green scarf in support of the legislation. Photo courtesy of Leslie Magdalena.

Social media campaigns have furthered their cause.

Leslie Magdalena, a Colombian human rights activist and artist with a focus on reproductive rights, has protested and believes that activism has been a big component in public intervention.

“My opinion is that this is justified, more justified and necessary,” said Magadelna in an interview with PantherNOW. “It is a historical debt with Colombian women in the recognition of what is a legitimate struggle for the right of women to say over their body. I believe that this is a great victory for the recognition of the productive autonomy of Colombian women.”