As a lawyer and women’s health organizer who has worked across Latin America, I helped organize the “green wave” which began in Argentina in the early 2000s, gaining national momentum in 2018, and ushering in groundbreaking legislation protecting health and bodily autonomy for generations of people across the region. Many thought these reforms would never happen, especially in nations where religion and the church are often a final arbiter on law and justice.
But the future is not lost.
Colombia became the third Latin American country to decriminalize abortion in the last two years, joining Argentina (up to the 14th week) and Mexico in recognizing bodily autonomy as a human right. (Although in Mexico the implementation of the ruling is up to each state, with only eight out of 32 so far having passed the laws, all of them with a limit set to the 12th week).
This wave of change is happening in some of the world’s most Catholic countries and, particularly in the cases of Mexico and Colombia, it demonstrates how ultimately the court justices found penalizing abortion to be unconstitutional – in other words, they interpreted the law accordingly with the constitution, not religious or personal beliefs.
That said, Evangelicals have been shown to be more conservative than Catholics in many aspects, including abortion. And in those countries where Evangelicals are the primary force, such as Honduras, Guatemala and even Brazil, progress seems less likely.
When the Court decided to revise Colombia’s abortion laws in 2021, human rights lawyers and lawyers like myself knew highlighting the discriminatory nature of the laws was how we could sway the judges and ultimately change hearts and minds.
This involved finding and sharing the personal and painful stories of women who were denied their legal right to abortion. We needed to prove that the implementation of the 2006 court ruling reinforced that abortion was a privilege for the rich, not a right.
The Court justices could not avoid what we shed light on: that the abortion laws created both a public health burden and a class system. People with means will always be able to access health care whereas those without can’t. The Constitutional Court of Colombia was left with no choice but to level the playing field and decriminalize abortion once and for all because we implemented the laws were failing the most marginalized that Colombia has a duty to protect.
American citizens who believe in the right to legal abortion can still push back against the Supreme Court’s impending ruling – in fact, we need everybody who cares about human and civil rights and bodily autonomy to get involved.
Abortion funds and states codifying Roe v. Wade are undeniably crucial to the survival of so many, but they can only do so much. Voter participation will be critical, but we need to learn from Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and elsewhere to pressure our elected officials to protect our health and our humanity.
Seeing abortion to become legal in Latin American countries is something we once thought impossible. As we gear up for the fight we now have in store in the US, we bring the learnings from our home countries, and our signature color green, to the country we call home today.
As recent nationwide demonstrations have shown, we are taking to the streets to fight like hell for bodily autonomy – and we ask that you join us.