BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — As women in the United States stand on the brink of possibly losing their constitutional right to abortion, courts in many other parts of the world have been moving in the opposite direction.
That includes in several 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 heavily Catholic parts of Latin America.
It is not yet clear what impact the leaked draft opinion suggesting the US Supreme Court could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wades from 1973.
But for women’s activists who for years have led grueling campaigns demanding open access to abortion, often looking to the United States as a model, it is a discouraging sign and a reminder that hard-won gains can be impermanent.
“It is a terrible precedent for the coming years for the region and the world,” said Colombian Catalina Martínez Coral, director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which was among the groups that litigated the case. abortion case. in the Supreme Court of Colombia.
There, the February ruling established a broad right for women to have an abortion within the 24-week period, whereas before they could only do so in specific cases, such as if the fetus had malformations or the pregnancy was the product of rape. Abortion is still allowed after that period under those special circumstances.
The decision fell short of the hopes of advocates 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 of Justice held last year that it was unconstitutional to punish abortion. As the highest court in the country, its ruling bars all jurisdictions from charging a woman with a crime for terminating a pregnancy.
Yet laws banning abortion are still on the books in most of Mexico’s 32 states, and nongovernmental organizations that have long pushed for decriminalization are pressing state legislatures to reform them. Abortion was already available in Mexico City and some states.
In southern Argentina, lawmakers approved a bill in late 2020 that legalizes abortion up to week 14 and then in circumstances similar to those outlined 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 allowed only in cases of rape, risk to the life of the woman and certified cases. of the birth defect anencephaly. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is seeking a new term in October, recently said he sees legalizing abortion as a public health problem, 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 handed down lengthy prison sentences to women for aggravated murder even in cases where prosecutors suspect a miscarriage was actually an abortion.
Many African nations also maintain outright bans, but in October 2021, Benin legalized abortion in most circumstances 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 electoral referendum last fall. It remains illegal in Andorra, Malta and Vatican City, while Poland toughened its abortion laws last year.
It has also been widely available in Israel since 1978 and relatively uncontroversial, permitted by law before week 24 with the approval of hospital “termination committees” consisting of medical professionals including at least one woman.
Laws and interpretations vary throughout the Muslim world.
Abortion has been legal 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 institution of Islamic clerics, Al-Azhar, said the 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 US Supreme Court is handed down, expected in late June or early July, the world will be watching.
“While moves to decriminalize and legalize abortion in places like Argentina, Ireland, Mexico and Colombia in recent years have been a huge victory for the world community,” said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of human rights group Amnesty International, in 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 City. Associated Press reporters 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.