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Colombia’s highest court rules to decriminalize abortion

Abortion-rights activists demonstrate in Bogota, Colombia.
Abortion-rights activists demonstrate outside the Constitutional Court while judges continue discussions on the decriminalization of abortion in Bogota, Colombia, on Monday.
(Fernando Vergara / Associated Press)
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Colombia became the latest country in Latin America to expand access to abortion Monday as the nation’s Constitutional Court voted to legalize the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy.

The decision by the tribunal of nine judges fell short of the expectations of abortion-rights groups that had been pushing for abortion to be completely decriminalized in Colombia. But it was nevertheless described as a historic event by women’s rights groups, which estimate 400,000 women get clandestine abortions in the country each year.

Before the ruling, Colombia allowed abortions only when a woman’s life was in danger, a fetus had malformations or a pregnancy resulted from rape.

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Elsewhere in Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba also allow abortions without restrictions until certain stages of pregnancy.

Latin America is also a region where some countries prohibit the termination of pregnancy without exception, like in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

In Colombia, where a majority of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, abortion has long been a controversial issue. Judges met several times to review the lawsuit filed by women’s rights groups without voting on it. Meanwhile, abortion-rights supporters waving green flags faced off against antiabortion protesters dressed in blue.

Jonathan Silva, an activist for the antiabortion group United for Life, said he was surprised by Monday’s decision. “We don’t understand how this happened,” he said. “But we will have to stage protests, and call on members of Congress to regulate abortion.”

A poll conducted last year in Colombia said that 25% of people considered abortion a crime, while 42% disagreed with that statement. In Colombia, women who get illegal abortions can face up to three years in prison.

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