Colombia's Constitutional Court Monday ruled to decriminalize medical procedures to terminate pregnancies up to the 24th week. In other words, there will be no criminal consequences for such actions until the sixth month.
So far, abortions were only legal in case of rape, if the mother's health was at risk or when the fetus had a malformation that compromised its survival, according to a 2006 ruling from the same court which also allowed for a conscientious objection from doctors who refused to perform such surgeries.
If not included in those exceptions, pregnant women and whoever carried out such a procedure with their consent faced between 16 to 54 months in prison.
From now on, the ”conduct of abortion will only be punishable when performed after the twenty-fourth (24) week of gestation,” the Constitutional Court stated in a press release. This represents a historic ruling in a country where 82% of the population considers itself religiously practicing or very practicing according to Latinobarómetro data and where the Catholic church has great influence over its devotees - despite having a secular state.
In 2006, church hierarchs threatened the magistrates of the Court with excommunication if they voted in favor of abortion.
This decision puts Colombia even ahead of Uruguay and Argentina, where abortion is free until the 12th and 14th week, respectively, of pregnancy.
It is also the fourth country to completely decriminalize abortion in South America after Argentina, Uruguay and Guyana.
Protesters gathered outside the Courthouse building in Bogotá. Women in green scarves celebrated the decision, while pro-life groups waved blue flags and prayed on their knees.
Colombia has become the fifth country in Latin America to decriminalize abortion and one of the most flexible ones. Argentina allows it up to week 14. Abortion is also legal up to week 12 in Mexico (in the States of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Hidalgo and Mexico City), Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana.
After the right to vote, this is the most important historical achievement for life, autonomy and the full and equal realization of women, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López tweeted.
There are reportedly 24 women in prison for having had an abortion.
Conscientious objections on the part of health care practicioners have pushed many women to clandestine procedures. A 2014 study by the Health Ministry believed 70 women died annually as a result of those practices while some 132,000 suffered complications.