BOGOTA – While women in the United States are on the verge of losing the constitutional right to abortion, courts in many other parts of the world have taken the opposite direction.
This includes in 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 wider trend seen in parts of the world. strongly Catholic Latin America.
It is not yet known what impact there will be outside the United States of the leaked draft opinion suggesting that the United States Supreme Court could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade.
But for activists who for years have campaigned fiercely demanding free access to abortion, often taking the United States as a model, it is a discouraging sign and a reminder that hard-won gains can be fleeting. .
“This is a terrible precedent for the years to come for the region and the world,” said Colombian Catalina Martínez Coral, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which was making part of the groups that have argued the abortion case. before the Colombian high court.
The February decision established a general right for women to have an abortion within the 24-week period, whereas previously they could only do so in specific cases, for example if a fetus had malformations or if one pregnancy resulted from rape. Abortion is still allowed after this period in these special circumstances.
The ruling fell short of advocates’ hopes for full decriminalization, but Martínez Coral said it still left Colombia with the “most progressive legal framework in Latin America.”
Similarly, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional. As the nation’s highest court, its ruling bars all courts from charging a woman with a felony for terminating a pregnancy.
However, laws banning abortion are still in effect in most of Mexico’s 32 states, and nongovernmental organizations that have long called for decriminalization are lobbying state legislatures to reform them. Abortion was already readily available in Mexico City and some states.
In southern Argentina, lawmakers passed a bill in late 2020 legalizing abortion up to and after the 14th week 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 spread to all of Latin America, with many countries limiting it to certain circumstances, such as Brazil, the most populous country in the region, where it does not is allowed only in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life and certified cases. congenital malformation anencephaly. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is seeking re-election in October, recently said he sees legalizing abortion as a public health issue, drawing criticism in a country where few approve of the procedure.
Other places have total bans with no exceptions, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Courts in the latter have sentenced women to long prison terms for aggravated homicide, even in cases where prosecutors suspected a miscarriage was actually an abortion.
Many African countries also maintain complete bans, but in October 2021 Benin legalized abortion in most cases up to 12 weeks. Previously, it was permitted 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 countries. Ireland did so in 2018, followed by tiny San Marino in an electoral referendum last fall. It remains illegal in Andorra, Malta and Vatican City, while Poland last year tightened its abortion laws.
It has also been widely available in Israel since 1978 and relatively uncontroversial, permitted by law before the 24th week with the approval of hospital “termination committees” made up of medical professionals including at least one woman.
Laws and interpretations vary across the Muslim world.
Abortion has been legal for up to 12 weeks in Tunisia for decades, but in Iran it has been banned since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Last year the head of Cairo’s main religious institution, Al-Azhar, declared that abortion is not the solution, even in cases where a child is likely to be seriously ill or disabled.
When the final decision of the United States Supreme Court is delivered, expected in late June or early July, the world will be watching.
“While the steps taken in recent years to decriminalize and legalize abortion in places like Argentina, Ireland, Mexico and Colombia have been a huge victory for the global community,” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary general of the human rights group Amnesty International. a statement, “there are grim signs that the United States is out of step with the progress the rest of the world is making in protecting sexual and reproductive rights.”
Sherman reported from Mexico. 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.
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