As U.S. poised to restrict abortion, others ease access
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA » As women in the United States find themselves on the verge of possibly losing the constitutional right to abortion, courts in many other parts of the world have been moving in the opposite direction.
That includes in a number of traditionally conservative societies — such as recently in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court in February legalized the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy, part of a broader trend seen in parts of heavily Catholic Latin America.
It’s not yet clear what impact there will be outside the United States from the leaked draft opinion suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
But for women’s activists who for years have led grinding campaigns demanding open access to abortion, often looking to the United States as a model, it’s a discouraging sign and a reminder that hard-won gains can be impermanent.
“It is an awful precedent for the coming years for the region and the world,” said Colombian Catalina Martínez Coral, Latin America and Caribbean director for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which was among the groups that litigated the abortion case in Colombia’s high court.
The February ruling there established a broad right for women to have abortions within the 24week period, whereas previously they could do so only in specific cases such as if a fetus presented malformations or a pregnancy resulted from rape. Abortion is still allowed after that period under those special circumstances.
The decision fell short of advocates’ hopes for a complete decriminalization, but Martínez Coral said it still left Colombia with the “most progressive legal framework in Latin America.”
Similarly, Mexico’s Supreme Court held last year that it was unconstitutional to punish abortion. As the country’s highest court, its ruling bars all jurisdictions from charging a woman with a crime for terminating a pregnancy.
Statutes outlawing abortion are still on the books in most of Mexico’s 32 states, however, and nongovernmental organizations that have long pushed for decriminalization are pressing state legislatures to reform them. Abortion was already readily available in Mexico City and some states.
To the south in Argentina, lawmakers in late 2020 passed a bill legalizing abortion until the 14th week and after that for circumstances similar to those described in the Colombia ruling.
It’s also widely available in Cuba and Uruguay.
But expansion of abortion access has not extended to all of Latin America, with many countries restricting it to certain circumstances.