Colombian Women's Right to Choose Under Siege
US-based agency Human Rights Watch has presented a brief to the Colombian Constitutional Court, challenging the country's restrictive abortion laws. Human Rights Watch says that the Colombia's penal sanctions for abortion are inconsistent with international human rights obligations and should be declared unconstitutional. Colombian women can be incarcerated for up to four and a half year for having abortions, even in cases of rape or when their lives are at risk.
"Women should be not sent to prison for having abortions," said
Marianne Mollmann, Women's Rights researcher at Human Rights
Watch. "Colombia's restrictive abortion laws violate women's basic
human rights and should be repealed."
Approximately 450,000 abortions occur every year in Colombia. Many studies show that more adolescent girls than adult women undergo illegal abortions. The consequences of illegal abortions are a leading cause of maternal mortality since illegal and unsafe abortion causes medical complications that can be fatal.
Colombia's law prohibits abortion in all circumstances. The penalty is lighter if the pregnancy is a result of rape or "nonconsensual artificial insemination." In 2000 the Colombian Congress changed the penal code, making it possible for a judge to waive the penal code on a case-by-case basis. Nonetheless, judges have the right to make a waiver under two further conditions: The first condition is to consider if the abortion occurs in "extraordinary situations of abnormal motivation," which is a vague clause that needs judicial interpretation. In the other condition the judge considers the punishment "unnecessary." However a 2005 amendement extended the maximum sentences for abortion from three years to four and a half years in prison.
Those who openly oppose the country's abortion law suffer harassment. On April 14 Colombian lawyer Monica del Pilar Roa Lopez, project director at Women's Link Worldwide, requested the court to review the law and find it unconstitutional. Two months later her offices were broken into and two computers containing confidential files stolen.
Several UN bodies have also criticized Colombian government about these laws, noting that they discriminate against women and violate their right to life and health. In the briefing submitted to the Colombian Constitutional Court, Human Rights Watch also cited findings from other human rights bodies, such as the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights, which said that its main human rights treaty, the American Convention on Human Rights, is compatible with a woman's right to access safe and legal abortions.
"Instead of amending its laws to comply with international human rights obligations, the Colombian authorities have only imposed harsher punishments on women for exercising their human rights," said Mollmann. "The court has an obligation to reverse this anti-constitutional development."