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In a landmark decision, Colombia's highest court has ruled that abortion must be permitted when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or health, in cases of rape, incest and in cases where the fetus has malformations incompatible with life outside the womb. Until today, Colombia outlawed abortion in all circumstances.
"This is a momentous decision for the women of Colombia," said Luisa Cabal, Director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The highest court in the land has taken a major step toward protecting women's dignity and basic human rights." In Colombia, where one quarter of pregnancies are terminated, unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal mortality.
The decision comes as a result of a constitutional challenge filed by Colombian lawyer Mónica Roa, Director of Programs at Women's Link Worldwide, who worked as a fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights from 2000 to 2002. The Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the challenge in May 2005.
Roa's challenge to Colombia's abortion law was the first to use international human rights law, arguing that Colombia was violating its obligations under international treaties ensuring women's rights to life and health. Her success in the highest court is part of a recent string of legal victories in Latin America, where favorable outcomes in two of the Center's cases in Peru and Mexico - also based upon international human rights law - have strengthened abortion rights. In K.L. v. Peru, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found the Peruvian government at fault for its failure to ensure access to legal abortion services. The plaintiff in that case was a young woman who was forced by state employed health officials to carry a fatally impaired fetus to term. In a similar case in Mexico, brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Mexican government agreed to a settlement ensuring reparations for a 13-year-old rape victim who was denied access to a legal abortion.
"Colombia's abortion law will now come closer to reflecting the realities of women's lives," said Lilian Sepúlveda, Legal Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center. "We are hopeful that other countries in the region-and the world-will follow Colombia's lead. In the year 2006, it is simply unacceptable that women continue to die from unsafe abortions."
The Center for Reproductive Rights will work with the Colombian Ministry of Health and local partners to ensure that the court's decision is implemented and that regulations are in place that protect women's rights and ensure access to legal abortion services.
Click here to read more about the Center's work in Latin America.