For decades, the nations of Latin America have been the targets of a sustained, well-funded campaign to legalize abortion. It has come under various guises—to promote population control, improve reproductive health, enhance the equality of women, end unsafe abortions, and so on. But the goal has been consistent—to overturn the laws and the popular will of the people and legalize abortion on demand across the continent.
In February, the Constitutional Court of Colombia, by a narrow 5 to 4 vote, decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks. This was the latest development in the long campaign to legalize abortion across the continent. Prior to this, only five countries—Argentina, Uruguay, Guyana, some states of Mexico, and Cuba—permitted abortion on demand, but none of them allow it beyond 16 weeks. In all other Latin American nations, abortion is either entirely illegal, or limited to very few cases such as sexual assault, or threats to maternal life or health. These laws give far more protection to unborn children than is currently permissible in the United States.
Abortion laws in Latin America
The long-standing pro-life laws in Latin America have support in international law. The American Convention on Human Rights is a multilateral treaty that has been in force since 1978 and has been adopted by virtually all of the nations in South and Central America. It states:
“Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” (Article 4.1)
It is worth noting that, despite strong pressure from pro-abortion advocates, there is no international human rights treaty or covenant that explicitly recognizes a right to abortion.
Foreign-funded campaigns to legalize abortion in Latin America
Nevertheless, the pressure to legalize abortion has been unrelenting. American and European government organizations have supported family planning initiatives and have at least indirectly funded abortion advocacy. UN agencies have continually pressed nations to change their laws, alleging that it is a human rights violation for abortion to be illegal. Meanwhile, wealthy non-government organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, Catholics for Choice, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Reproductive Rights have given financial support and expertise to local groups like “Causa Justa,” the coalition of local organizations that brought the lawsuit in Colombia.
Pro-abortion efforts have failed to gain ground in recent years through the democratic process. Prior to the Constitutional Court’s decision, the legislature in Colombia repeatedly refused to legalize or decriminalize abortion. The court ruling met with strong opposition from public officials and the Catholic bishops. Massive anti-abortion rallies across the nation showed strong support for pro-life laws.
The effort to legalize abortion in traditionally Catholic Latin America is precisely the kind of cultural imperialism that Pope Francis has denounced. He has decried the exportation of “woke” values from Europe and North America to countries that have no desire for them, often as strings attached to desperately needed financial aid. He should know, having witnessed first-hand the campaigns to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage in his native Argentina, and the promotion of gender ideology.
Like Roe, most Latin American abortion laws come via courts, not legislation
Only in Argentina has abortion been legalized by legislation. Otherwise it has been created by judicial decision—a familiar experience for Americans. In fact, the most significant legislative actions in Latin America have been to tighten restrictions. For example, soon after the Colombia court decision, Guatemala’s legislature passed a bill that further limited abortion, although the bill has been placed on hold in light of a veto threat from the president.
The court decision in Colombia was greeted with scenes of jubilation in the streets by young women—a macabre sight to advocates of preborn babies. Pro-abortion advocates in Latin America have been getting more radical in recent years, to the point of vandalizing and setting fires in churches. This should give us concern about what might happen in the United States if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade or otherwise permits greater restrictions on abortion.