Colombia: activist’s reflections
By Women’s Link Worldwide Colombia
…the work to implement the right to an abortion in Colombia is under fierce attack by the government…
In April 2005, Women’s Link Worldwide launched a bold and innovative challenge in the Constitutional Court of Colombia by asking the judges to liberalize the country’s abortion law. Before this challenge, the procedure was outlawed under all circumstances.
As a consequence of our challenge, on May 10, 2006 the Constitutional Court issued a historic decision. The majority of the Court (5-3) ruled that women have the right to demand abortion services when the life or health (physical and mental) of the woman is in danger, when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest and when grave fetal malformations preclude viability.
This case was the first to challenge Colombia’s total ban on abortion using international human rights arguments. The Colombian Constitution explicitly states that international human rights treaties ratified by Congress take precedence over national laws and serve as a guide in interpreting the rights established in the Constitution.
However, this was only the first step on the road to guaranteeing safe and legal abortions for women in Colombia. Despite this victory, we continue to encounter many cases in which women and girls are denied their rights. These cases illustrate the unfair and often cruel obstacles they face in the health and judicial systems.
As part of our work to implement the abortion rights framework in Colombia, Women’s Link followed up on an important case that had reached the Constitutional Court. The case involved a 13-year-old girl who was sexually abused by a neighbor, became pregnant and was denied a legal abortion. The Constitutional Court had found in favor of the girl but the Court orders were not being followed by the judge charged with their execution.
X gave birth via an emergency C-section. However, the hospital failed to treat X for an STI (gonorrhea) that she caught from her rapist, or for the psychological trauma from both the rape and her mistreatment in the health care system. Due to the hospital’s failure to properly care for X, there were complications during the C-section. Additionally, during her pregnancy, X attempted to commit suicide on three occasions.
The girl and her mother were harassed and attacked on a number of occasions due to the criminal charges made against the aggressor. These attacks intensified when the baby was put up for adoption. Women’s Link Worldwide requested precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect the girl and her mother from the risk of immediate and irreparable damage and violation of the right to life, the right to personal liberty, honor and dignity, the right to equality, the rights of the child and furthermore, the violation of a State’s due diligence obligation to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women.
Six years after the historic ruling of the Constitutional Court, our organization is experiencing escalating harassment. On the evening of May 7, an unidentified person fired a shot at the Women’s Link office in Bogotá where our Programs Director Mónica Roa and two other Women’s Link employees were working. The bullet broke the office window glass above Mónica’s head. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. This scare tactic comes at a time when the work to implement the right to an abortion in Colombia is under fierce attack by the government office of the Procurador*. On March 1, Women’s Link learned that a criminal complaint had been filed against Mónica by the deputy Procuradora, Ilva Myriam Hoyos, in charge of women’s rights. The complaint was made public in July and it accuses Mónica of libelous slander in response to a tutela claim (a constitutional challenge) brought by Women’s Link that recently reached the Colombian Constitutional Court.
The tutela, signed by 1,201 women of reproductive age from around the country, claims that Procuradora Hoyos and other high officials at the Procuraduría have violated the right to information by providing false, inaccurate and unreliable information on sexual and reproductive rights. The complaint requests that the Procurador and his deputies carry out their constitutional duty to uphold and enforce the fundamental rights of Colombian women and children.
*Procurador refers to the Inspector General of Colombia, who is in charge of ensuring compliance with the constitution and its jurisprudence, is obligated to ensure the protection of human rights in all state actions, and has disciplinary power over public officials.
DEMAND ACCESS TO SAFE AND LEGAL ABORTION NOW!