Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled on Monday, February 21, to decriminalize abortion during the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy, a move that reflects the shifting ideologies of Latin America. The court ruled five against four to legalize the procedure, following suit to countries like Argentina and Mexico that enacted similar legislation changes in December 2020 and September 2021 respectively. New York Times author Julie Turkewitz points out that this change comes in stark contrast with recent U.S. movements, wherein abortion restrictions have increased and the foundational Roe v. Wade ruling is at risk of being overruled.
Prior to this ruling, abortions were only permissible by law in the following circumstances: (a) the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother; (b) the fetus has life-threatening malformations; or (c) the pregnancy is the result of rape, non-consensual artificial insemination or incest. Before 2006, abortion was illegal in all situations with no exceptions; this is still the case in Latin America for citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Haiti.
“I am extremely happy that women are able to have safe and legal abortions in Colombia,” commented Paige Bialik (‘22), president of the student group Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO). “I believe that abortion is a part of health care, and making them illegal only increases the health risk of women who receive unsafe abortions. Since, legal or not, abortions will still happen because they are almost impossible to prevent. It is better to have legal abortions so women can receive the proper care needed and also have a doctor assess which type of abortion they need. Since abortions range from pills to surgery.” Bialik is from Shelby Township, MI, and is majoring in Communication with minors in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. They emphasized the importance of understanding that “abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not, and if they are illegal it only increases the risks for future health complications in the future on that individual. Others would argue that adoption or keeping the baby are better options than abortion. However, raising a child is expensive and not everyone can afford to do so.” Bialik also noted that the amount of children in America that are adopted is much lower than the total number of children in the foster care system; in Colombia, this disparity is even larger. “Abortion is not an easy decision for anyone to make,” they noted, “but by legalizing abortion it equates to less children being placed in orphanages, foster care, and also empowers the person receiving an abortion that choice to make for themselves.”
WEO is a pro-choice organization that believes that abortion is an individual’s choice to make and reproductive rights are basic human rights. Their goal is to “foster an environment within the Hope College community in which every student feels accepted, validated and respected. Through leading by example, the organization hopes to encourage the practicing of important principles that will create this kind of environment. These values include, but are not limited to, empowerment, understanding, love and education. The Women’s Empowerment Organization lovingly welcomes anyone interested in our mission regardless of race, religion, sex, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or ability.
When the ruling was announced, crowds of abortion rights supporters celebrated outside the Constitutional Court in Bogotá. “Today, women in this country have won,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, the regional director of the Center for Reproductive Rights in the capital. “This is a historic decision for Latin America and the Caribbean, and will serve as a beacon for the constitutional and supreme courts of the region.” Many in the crowd sported green—the color taken up by the pro-choice movement—from headbands to masks to makeup. The “Green Wave” movement saw a previous opportunity to lift the country’s abortions restrictions in March of 2020, but the court’s ruling was one vote shy of a majority vote. “There will now be a before and after for the women of Colombia,” said Gabriela Lora, a 20-year-old university student in the crowd. “The state is giving us back our autonomy over our own bodies.”
Conversely, conservative citizens in the largely Catholic country have spoken out against the ruling. “A state that decides to eliminate a portion of human beings, from the first day or until the 24th week, becomes genocidal and totalitarian,” said Alejandro Ordóñez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, in a Tweet on February 21. “’It hurts to see how society is subjugated by the culture of death.”
“My heart breaks for all the Columbian babies that won’t get a chance at life, whose fate has been unjustly decided for them before they have the chance to fight for it themselves,” said Alyssa Klaver (‘22), an Exercise Science and Psychology student who is the secretary of the campus organization Students Cherishing Life (SCL). “It also saddens and confuses me that the courts decriminalized abortion through 24 weeks especially because continuing research has shown the age of viability to be much earlier than that.”
According to CNN, “fetal viability” refers to the point at which a fetus can live outside the mother’s womb and is considered by most medical professionals to be around 22-24 weeks. In December, a Mississippi abortion law that marks the timeline at 15 weeks was presented to the Supreme Court. This law was enacted in 2018 but never went into effect after being immediately challenged and subsequently blocked by a federal appellate court.
Klaver stated that the mission of SCL is “to defend human life at all stages from womb to tomb. Therefore, we believe that abortion is philosophically and morally wrong, and we strive to eliminate both the access to abortion and the need for it. On campus, we work through effective education, industry impact, public policy, rapid response and supportive services. This manifests in a variety of ways from apologetics training to advertising pregnancy/parenting resources to attending the national March for Life to fostering intentional conversations on these topics.”
“Research has shown that abortion hurts women in a number of ways,” she continued, “so if any of us know someone facing that decision (here or far away), we should meet them with love, empathy and support so they don’t feel the isolation, fear and shame that often drive them towards ending the life of their child.”