Colombia: One step closer to legalizing abortion?
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Colombia: One step closer to legalizing abortion?

Colombia could be set to rehaul its current rigid abortion law, enabling women to terminate pregnancy during the first 12 weeks as part of a new ruling by the Public Prosecutor for the nation.

“The proposal is that women will be allowed to abort without having to meet with any special requirements or medical conditions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. What happens after week 12? Clauses will come into force, enabling abortion,” Eduardo Montealegre commented in congress.

Illegal abortions

Montealgre’s proposal has not been well received by the country’s Catholic community, but it is a step forward to combat backstreet abortion clinics. Illegal abortions are currently the number one cause of death amongst expecting mothers in Colombia, with perpetrators facing a 16 to 54 month jail sentence.

Women are currently only allowed to abort in Colombia if they meet with one of the three following conditions: they are a victim of rape, when the foetus presents malformations or when the woman’s physical and mental health is in danger.

Despite displaying a more open approach towards civil unions and same-sex adoption, abortion still remains a decidedly taboo subject in Catholic Colombia. Many women still fear speaking up, choosing to remain quiet to keep face rather than accepted medical help from trained practitioners. Abortion clinics, although illegal, are still a lucrative business as many women risk their lives to undergo the procedure, failing to meet with the requirements to enter a registered clinic.

“Figures show that illegal abortion is continuing in Colombia, that there are 200,000 cases of illegal abortions (yearly), with numerous medical risks for the woman. This just shows the failure of the penal system as a control mechanism,” Montealegre added.

My body, my decision

At the forum “Legal abortion in Colombia: for the present and future” organized by Women’s Link Worldwide Mónica Roa, Vicepresident for the foundation commented on the country’s current 2006 abortion system, as thousands of women continue to die during pregnancy without realizing that they are entitled to an abortion, Semana magazine reports.

But for many women, including journalist Jineth Bedoya, the simple fact that they will be able to make a decision on their own body, is a step forward for women’s rights in Colombia. Bedoya was kidnapped and raped by three paramilitaries in 2000. The men have still not been charged.

But will Montealegre’s proposal be passed any time soon? Certainly with illegal abortions reaching worrying totals will it take more cases, such as Bedoya’s, to spur the Colombian Constitutional Court into action. Or as attention continues to be focused on the peace process, will women have to continue to wait until they can finally choose to legally abort.

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