RH Reality Check blogger Angela Castellano reported this morning that the high court, Consejo de Estado, has ruled that emergency contraception is not abortion, and has authorized government health agency INVIMA’s ability to import and distribute EC. Emergency contraception has been a controversial topic on Latin American countries for awhile now. For example, last April, the Constitutional Court of Chile banned EC. In 2006, EC was nearly banned in Argentina. In Columbia, there is a right-to-life law on the books, which caused controversy when Carlos Humberto Gómez Arambula argued that the drug was abortive, and therefore violated the law. I applaud the Colombian court that acted based on medical and scientific knowledge in order to make EC available for women. EC is still only available with a prescription, but that’s better than not being available at all; this is a step in the right direction. While activists and legislators still need to work to make EC accessible to everyone (inexpensive and without a prescription), the Colombian Court’s ruling is a sign of progress.
I find the ruling especially timely considering the recent HHS proposal debacle, especially because the United States does not have a right-to-life law. In Colombia, where abortion is totally illegal and a woman has no right to choose what to do with her pregnancy, lawmakers are nontheless able to recognize that contraception is not the same thing as abortion. While I of course wish that abortion was legal in Colombia, I’m nonetheless thrilled that lawmakers are making it easier for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If women have no legal right to abort an unwanted pregnancy, then the least Colombian lawmakers can do is make various forms of contraception readily available. Furthermore, since emergency contraception is legally classified as non-abortive, a woman doesn’t have to worry that her pharmacist won’t fill her prescription citing moral reasons. It’s not abortive, so it can’t conflict with any religious or other ethical beliefs.
Contrast this with the United States, where abortion is legal, but various states have restrictions that might make it difficult for women to obtain one (such as clinics being far away, and the fact that abortions are expensive). Furthermore, conservative activists are trying to put more and more restrictions in place each day, including the idea that contraception and abortion are the same thing. In addition, pharmacists can refuse to do their public jobs because it might conflict with their personal beliefs. Conservatives here aren’t interested in keeping abortion safe and rare. They’re working to eliminate all forms of choice.
And yet there’s an anti-abortion country that nonetheless recognizes that there needs to be some latitude for choice. No, the people don’t have complete reproductive freedom; pro-choice activists still need to keep working for change in Colombia. But the government is nonetheless using scientific data to inform their decisions about the legality of contraception, and making sure that women have options to control their fertility and prevent unplanned pregnancy. Whereas in the United States, abortion is ostensibly available, and people are working to make sure that it’s not, to the point where women wouldn’t even have access to contraception, much less abortion.
Colombia is doing something right. No, maybe the country won’t have legal abortion in a year or even five years, but at least the EC decision shows that lawmakers are willing to action rationally and intelligently when approaching issues of reproductive choice and contraception. Whereas in the supposedly “free” United States, our legislators are choosing to ignore the voice of scientific reason that shows that abortion and contraception are different, and act as though women shouldn’t have any choice at all.