Colombia’s Highest Court Refuses to Rule on Abortion Proposal

EARLY MARCH SAW COLOMBIA’S top court step away from ruling on expansions to legalized abortion throughout the country. A case was presented in absentia—brought forward by Natalia Bernal, a Colombian law professor living in France—which claimed abortion to be tantamount to torture and in violation of the rights of the unborn and women. While the initial lodging of the case was antagonistic towards preexisting abortion access laws in Colombia—2006 legislation permitting abortion in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life and fetal abnormalities—the case quickly came into play as a review of changes to the abortion law that could potentially expand or eliminate abortion access.

Upon receipt of the case to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, Magistrate Alejandro Linares interpreted
a challenge to the existing law as a challenge that could extend in either direction. Linares proposed reviewing the possibility of legalizing the procedure for any reason within the first16 weeks of pregnancy. According to portions of Linares’ ruling on the case reported by Colombian media, he cited the forfeiture of personal autonomy by pregnant women to external agents, including the state, beyond the four month marker.

Despite Magistrate Linares’ opinion and the precedent in personal and sexual autonomy set by the Court’s 2016 legalization of gay marriage, the Court ultimately withdrew itself from ruling. Ahead of its announcement to abstain, hundreds of protestors on both sides of the issue faced off. Prochoice opposition overwhelmingly constituted conservative Catholics, many of whom, like Bernal, sought to challenge the existing law with an eye to elimination. Following the abstention, Archbishop Luis Rueda Aparicio of Popayan reinforced conservative Catholic opposition to the existence, let alone expansion, of abortion access in a statement that declared, “The truth is that women don’t need abortion; what
they need is companionship and support.”

Between 2017 and 2018, Doctors Without Borders reported that 88 percent of the roughly 430 women
seeking abortions in Columbia reported at least one barrier in obtaining the procedure, even within the bounds of the three legally approved circumstances under which they may be administered.

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