COLOMBIA – Constitutional Court judges split 4-4 on removing abortion from the Penal Code 

Eight judges from Colombia’s constitutional court were evenly split on 20 January 2022 over whether abortion should be eliminated from the Penal Code, reported Causa Justa, the coalition of more than 90 pro-choice groups and organisations which brought the long-running lawsuit.

Abortion was partially legalised in Colombia under a 2006 Court ruling that allows abortion in cases of rape, fatal fetal anomaly, and to protect the health of the woman. However, the coalition estimates that around 90% of abortions in Colombia still take place clandestinely.

Causa Justa brought the suit in 2020, saying prosecutions of women who sought or obtained abortions worsens stigma and scares potential patients, even in cases when one of the three legal conditions for abortion applies.

A possible ruling in favour of elimination from the Penal Code would not widen the circumstances in which women and girls can seek abortions, but it would guarantee that they are no longer imprisoned, Causa Justa has said.

A ruling had originally been expected late last year, but a ninth judge requested a recusal, which was granted on 20 January, the day before the Court heard the case. Causa Justa later shared a list of how the eight magistrates had voted and said the Court had agreed to appoint a new ninth judge for an eventual re-vote.

A spokesman for the Court said it did not yet have an official comment.

Some 350 women were convicted or sanctioned for abortions between the 2006 ruling and mid-2019, including at least 80 girls under the age of 18, according to Causa Justa.

“The fact that abortion exists as a crime does not dissuade women from seeking an abortion, it just pushes them to seek clandestine and often unsafe abortions, putting their lives and health at risk,” Catalina Martinez Coral, regional director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said outside the Court.

SOURCE: Reuters, by Julia Symmes Cobb, 21 January 2022 ; PHOTO by Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters, 20-1-22.