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Colombia extends Latin America's legal abortion wave as Florida and the U.S. move toward restrictions

Colombian women march in support of abortion legalization in Bogota.
Fernando Vergara
Colombian women march in support of abortion legalization in Bogota last year.

Colombia has set a new Latin American standard by legalizing abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy — Florida's current limit, which may soon be cut to 15.

Colombia’s highest court legalized abortion on Monday — the latest such decision in what many are calling a wave in Latin America, one that runs counter to what’s happening in the U.S. and Florida.

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Until now, abortion had been legal in Colombia only in cases such as rape and severe fetal malformation. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has now approved all abortions within 24 weeks of pregnancy — almost twice the limit other Latin American countries like Argentina and Mexico have recently granted, as part of what's become known as the region's "green handkerchief" movement.

“It is extraordinary that the court has decided on 24 weeks — it's setting a historical standard for the region," said Daniela Martins, who is based in Miami and is head of strategy and communications at the nonprofit Women's Equality Center.

"So it’s probable that the Colombian decision is going to have a ripple effect — just as the Argentina and the Mexico decisions had an effect in Colombia.”

Last year the Women's Equality Center joined with Colombian abortion-rights organizations to create a high-profile social media campaign. It used tragic personal stories, narrated by celebrities, to persuade Colombians that keeping abortion illegal denied women their rights.

Ironically, 24 weeks of pregnancy is the current abortion limit in Florida. But it’s under threat from a bill in Tallahassee that would set the limit at 15 weeks — with no exceptions for circumstances such as rape. Martins said it’s not unthinkable now that women in Florida might fly to Colombia for legal abortions.

“While we are seeing this historical moment of advancing abortion rights in Latin America, we’re seeing the exact opposite in the United States," Martins said.

"And I would hope that the victories in Latin America help strengthen the movement in the United States.”

Latin America as a whole still has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws — and has more countries than any region that ban abortion under any circumstance.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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