BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – As women in the United States find themselves on the verge of losing their constitutional right to abortion, courts in many other parts of the world are moving in the opposite direction.
This includes a number of traditionally conservative societies, such as recently in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court in February legalized the procedure up to the 24th week of pregnancy, part of a broader trend seen in some parts of heavily Catholic Latin America.
It is not yet clear what impact there will be outside the United States from the leaked draft opinion suggesting that the United States Supreme Court could overturn the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade.
But for women activists who for years have been campaigning fiercely for free access to abortion, often looking to the United States as a model, it’s a daunting sign and a reminder that hard-earned gains can be temporary.
“It’s a terrible precedent for the region and the world for the next few years,” said Colombian Catalina Martínez Coral, director of Latin America and the Caribbean at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, who was among the groups that supported the abortion case in the Colombian High Court.
The February ruling established a broad right for women to have an abortion within the 24-week period, whereas previously they could only do so in specific cases such as if a fetus was malformed or a pregnancy resulted from rape. Abortion is still allowed after that period in those special circumstances.
The decision did not live up to the hopes of supporters of a complete decriminalization, but Martínez Coral said he still left Colombia with the “most progressive legal framework in Latin America”.
Likewise, the Supreme Court of Mexico last year found it unconstitutional to punish abortion. As the highest court in the country, its ruling prohibits all jurisdictions from accusing a woman of a crime for terminating a pregnancy.
However, statutes banning abortion are still on the books in most of Mexico’s 32 states, and nongovernmental organizations that have long pushed for decriminalization are lobbying state lawmakers to reform them. Abortion was already available in Mexico City and some states.
In southern Argentina, lawmakers in late 2020 passed a bill that legalizes abortion up to the 14th week and thereafter for circumstances similar to those described in the Colombia ruling.
It is also widely available in Cuba and Uruguay.
But the expansion of access to abortion has not extended to all of Latin America, with many countries restricting it to certain circumstances, such as Brazil, the most populous nation in the region, where it is only allowed in cases of rape. , risk to the woman’s life and certified cases of birth defect anencephaly. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is seeking a new term in October, recently said he sees the legalization of abortion as a public health issue, sparking criticism in a country where few approve of the procedure.
Other places have total bans without exception, such as Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The latter’s courts have sentenced women to long prison terms for aggravated murder even in cases where prosecutors suspect that a miscarriage was in fact an abortion.
Many African nations also maintain full bans, but in October 2021, Benin legalized abortion in most cases for up to 12 weeks. Previously it was allowed in cases of rape or incest; risk to the woman’s life; or severe fetal malformation.
Most European countries have legalized abortion, including predominantly Catholic ones. Ireland did so in 2018, followed by tiny San Marino in an election referendum last fall. It remains illegal in Andorra, Malta and Vatican City, while Poland tightened its abortion laws last year.
It has also been widely available in Israel since 1978 and relatively non-controversial, allowed by law before week 24 with the approval of hospital “discharge committees” made up of medical professionals including at least one woman.
Laws and interpretations vary in the Muslim world.
Abortion has been legal for up to 12 weeks in Tunisia for decades, but in Iran it was banned since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Last year, the leader of Cairo’s highest Islamic religious institution, Al-Azhar, said abortion it is not the solution even in cases where a child is at risk of being seriously ill or disabled.
When the final decision of the United States Supreme Court, scheduled for late June or early July, is issued, the world will stand by.
“While the moves to decriminalize and legalize abortion in places like Argentina, Ireland, Mexico and Colombia in recent years have been a huge win for the global community,” said Agnes Callamard, general secretary of the human rights group of Amnesty International, in a statement, “there are sad signs that the United States is not keeping up with the progress the rest of the world is making in protecting sexual and reproductive rights.”
Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writers Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Sweden; Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mauricio Savarese in Rio de Janeiro; Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal; Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem; and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.