On 20 January, the Constitutional Court resumed the debate on the decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia, following two lawsuits calling for it to be removed as a crime from the penal code. This is an issue that had been postponed to 2021, however, after approximately six hours of discussion, the eight magistrates (the ninth magistrate Alejando Linares was forced to present an impediment in the decision of this case, as he spoke openly on the subject in a media outlet, which generated accusations) were unable to agree, leaving a tie of four in favour and four against.
By Alicia Muñoz Bohorquez
It is worth remembering that since 2006 the Court ratified and strengthened the decriminalisation of abortion on three grounds: when the pregnancy is the result of abuse, rape, incest, egg transfer or non-consensual insemination, when the life or health of the mother is in danger and when there is a malformation of the foetus, this was issued in Ruling C-355 of that year. In recent years, many women’s organisations have been calling for total decriminalisation. This discussion has also reached the Congress of the Republic, but it has mainly been the Christian parties that have tried to stop the reforms or even eliminate the three grounds, which has meant that these debates for and against have not allowed considerable progress to be made.
It is important to bear in mind that the lawsuits being studied by the Court are mainly focused on the elimination of the crime of abortion enshrined in article 122 of the Colombian penal code, since it is claimed that a woman who performs this practice should not be treated as a criminal (according to data from the Attorney General’s Office between 1999 and 2019, 342 women were convicted of this crime), in addition, it is sought that professionals who carry out this practice are not criminalised. On the other hand, it is intended that there will be no regression and that the grounds that already exist will be safeguarded, given the various lawsuits that have also been filed to fully criminalise abortion.
In Colombia, it is estimated that 400,000 abortions are performed annually, of which only 8 or 10% are performed by certified and quality intuitions, and according to a study by the Ministry of Health, 70 women die each year as a result of clandestine practices, mainly due to the criminalisation of abortion and the obstacles that exist in the institutions to carry it out legally. One of the best-known methods that many women use to have abortions at home is the much talked about Misoprostol, a medicine that is easily accessible in the country and which causes the uterus to contract and eliminate whatever it has, but this causes strong contractions, pain and bleeding and can even lead to health complications, however, most women do not go to hospitals or clinics for fear of being prosecuted.
It is a reality that in multiple occasions we are forced to assume pregnancies alone, since in several circumstances the partners do not take charge or ask arbitrarily that we practice abortion, causing a strong social and emotional pressure, such is the case that outraged many in the country, after the acquittal of charges of Andrés Felipe Muñoz Lara, drummer of the band Tres de Corazón, who was accused since 2019 for causing an induced abortion to a woman with whom he had had sexual relations and who refused to have an abortion. According to the facts, Muñoz would have put misoprostol in a drink which caused the loss of the foetus, however, on 18 January the Ninth Criminal Judge of the Circuit of Medellin considered him innocent because the woman had had bleeding before consuming the drink. This is not an isolated case, as many women suffer this situation or even have their sexual partners remove condoms without their consent, which also violates their rights.
There are many opinions on abortion in Colombia and around the world, but it is important to understand that the epicentre of the discussion is profound and encompasses many nuances, not only the termination of the life of the foetus, since the total elimination of the crime of abortion would open up the discussion and strengthen women’s rights, that is to say, put early sexual education for both women and men on the table, which leads to teaching about contraceptive methods, thus leading to this activity being carried out as a last resort, in addition, It is important to highlight that abortion is not intended to become a recreational activity, on the contrary, it is intended to be a responsible and conscientious tool, where every woman who wants to have an abortion has optimal and safe psychological and medical help, a process in which each woman can decide freely about her body and where the rights of all women are guaranteed, including transgender women and health care workers.
Given the tied vote in the Plenary Chamber, two judges, Juan Carlos Henao and Julio Andrés Ossa, were assigned to study each case and it is expected that in the coming weeks it will be known which case will be voted on first. Likewise, there will be an odd number of judges, which means that this year we will finally know what will happen with the decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia.