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Abortion depenalized in Colombia. How will this impact public health?

This Monday, February 21, the Constitutional Court made the decision to decriminalize abortion in Colombia until week 24. How will this impact public health?

 Woman wearing a green scarf, a symbol of the fight for legal abortion

Photo: Reuters

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

Colombia has joined the "green tide" that has spread through various countries such as Mexico and Argentina to decriminalize and legalize abortion in Latin America. After approximately two years of debates, the Constitutional Court decided to decriminalize abortion up to the 24th week of gestation thanks to two lawsuits filed; one by a lawyer and the other by the collective Causa Justa. These lawsuits questioned the classification of abortion as a crime, arguing the gaps in inequality that it generated for women and the danger of resorting to clandestine abortions, among other considerations.

In this way, beyond the moral debate that abortion provokes, it is a legal and public health issue that the country could not continue to evade. In this regard, according to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2014 about 45% of abortions performed in the world were risky. It is estimated that in Latin America and Africa three of every four abortions are dangerous. This means that women are exposed to methods not recognized by the health authorities, practiced clandestinely, which endanger their lives and can cause serious complications. It is estimated that in developing regions, there is a mortality of between 220 and 520 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions.

In relation to this danger, information from the Universidad del Rosario points out that around 400,000 illegal abortions were performed each year in Colombia. These figures are fundamental for the decriminalization decision, since "400,000 illegal abortions are 400,000 women at risk, they are 400,000 additional appointments for the health system, from which the same number of treatments caused by a miscarried abortion can be derived" , according to Óscar Javier Maldonado Castañeda, a researcher at the aforementioned university. These figures also show that the criminalization of abortion does not stop it from being committed, but rather leads those who make the decision to expose themselves to dangerous situations.

Before this historic decision, abortion was legal under three grounds, which remain in force after 24 weeks: rape, malformation of the fetus and danger to the physical or mental health of the woman. mother. However, there have been various obstacles for women who decide to access abortion for legal reasons, such as stigmatization, slow processes or criminal hoisting Of these obstacles, the penalty generated a strong barrier due to the fear of being sentenced. According to an investigation carried out by the Roundtable for the Life and Health of Women on the criminalization of abortion in Colombia, after 2008 the number of cases seeking to condemn abortion was around 400 per year. In fact, in 2018 there were 416 cases. Of the cases that ended in conviction, 56.72% came from complaints by health personnel, which violated professional secrecy.

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The decision to decriminalize abortion until week 24, which in this case is the longest term in Latin America, also opens the way for other state institutions to formulate comprehensive public policies that protect sexual rights and reproductive rights of women in a broader way, focusing on minors and rural women, who according to the figures are the most affected. In this sense, one of the main challenges after the decision of the Constitutional Court will be that this new right, achieved thanks to the agency of feminist groups, be effective and there are no obstacles to access it, counting on the fact that the time to proceed in these types of situations is key.