Martha Solay, a 34-year-old street vendor, was two months pregnant when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2006. She could not receive chemotherapy because under Colombia’s laws abortion was illegal in all circumstances. At the same time, however, over 350,000 illegal abortions were performed annually.
Martha spent her last years raising money to make sure her children could survive without her. She gave birth to Daniela, her fourth child, and died two years later.
At the time, lawyers argued before the Constitutional Court that consistency between the international human rights treaties that Colombia had ratified, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and national law was compulsory, not optional.
The Court overturned abortion laws ruling that the criminal prohibition of abortion in all circumstances violates women’s fundamental rights and so abortion must be accessible in certain cases. The government consequently followed recommendations of the World Health Organization and made abortion available through the public health system. The law now permits abortions in cases of rape and incest, if the woman’s life or health (mental or physical) is in danger, or in case of certain fetal anomalies.
Recently however, as the recently released UN report, Progress of the World’s Women, pointed out, there have been cases where health care providers refuse to perform legal abortions, and the Procurator-General does not support enforcement of the relevant Constitutional Court ruling.