The World Is Liberalizing Abortion Laws, But America Is Bent on Criminalization

Colombia's highest court decriminalized abortion on Monday, becoming the latest Latin American country to do so.

The World Is Liberalizing Abortion Laws, But America Is Bent on Criminalization
Photo:RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP (Getty Images)

The plaza outside Palacio de Justicia in Bogotá, Colombia was joyous on Monday. People wearing green bandanas—the symbol of the abortion rights movement in Latin America—crowded together shouting, crying and rejoicing. Kicking off this week, Colombia’s highest court ruled in favor of decriminalizing abortion up until 24 weeks of a pregnancy. The move makes Colombia the latest country to liberalize its abortion laws—almost in direct response to America’s continued push toward criminalization.

Since 2006, abortion had only been permitted in Colombia in cases of rape or incest or if the pregnant person’s health was at risk — meaning fetal abnormalities that would lead to death. Before that, the country had a total ban on the incredibly safe medical procedure.

“This ruling puts Colombia as the country with the most advanced legislation in the Americas,” Mariana Ardila, Women’s Link Worldwide managing attorney and one of the leading plaintiffs in the case in front of the court, said in a statement to Jezebel. “While this is a landmark decision for Colombia and for the surrounding region, Colombia’s Constitutional Court missed an excellent opportunity to be at the forefront of the world by regulating abortion outside of criminal law and to treat it as a public health issue.”

Upon the news breaking on Monday, Colombian activists and protesters were seen en masse wearing or waving a green bandana in celebration. Activists in Argentina first started wearing the green handkerchiefs as an homage to las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of those disappeared by the country’s dictatorial government. The mothers wore white scarves while marching for their missing children.

Marta Royo, executive director for Profamilia, the International Planned Parenthood Federation member association in Colombia, remarked on this movement in a statement to Jezebel, noting that both the decriminalization of abortion and “the Green Wave movement across Latin America” is “centered not just on public health, but also the full lives, citizenship and human rights of girls, adolescents, and women – who, for multiple reasons, including inequity, access to education, gender-based violence and barriers to healthcare – continue to face unintended pregnancies.”

“The freedom for women to finally make their own choices about their pregnancies and their bodies is fundamental to disrupting the cycle of poverty that so many in Colombia face,” she noted.

Outside of Colombia, there’s been a smattering of new abortion legislation elsewhere in Latin America. In the final days of 2020, Argentina legalized abortion after 12 hours of high-stakes votes in the Senate. Even more recently, in September Mexico’s highest court found criminalizing abortion to be unconstitutional.

While Latin American courts are recognizing bodily autonomy as paramount to a functioning society, American courts are attempting to walk citizens back to the dark ages. In December 2021, the Supreme Court heard a case to consider the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade while also leaving the cruel Texas Senate Bill 8 in place while abortion providers challenge the 6-week ban.

Activists in Colombia recognize the same problems in their country as America: The people most adversely affected by abortion bans are the rural poor. “It is one thing to seek an abortion in a major city like Bogotá, and quite another to seek one in a remote region. Women and girls with limited education, poor women, victims of violence, women who are part of racial or ethnic minority groups, and women living in rural areas often end up seeking abortions later in pregnancy because they lack information, resources and access to health care facilities,” Ardila said. “They must not be left out or forgotten.”

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