Colombia’s bishops expressed “perplexity and deep pain” after the country’s constitutional court decriminalized abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The court handed down its ruling Feb. 21, continuing a trend toward abortion decriminalization in large Latin American countries — following Mexico in 2021 and Argentina in 2020. Before the court decision, penalties for having an abortion included a prison sentence of up to 54 months, according to Colombian media.

In a statement Feb. 22, the Colombian bishops’ conference said in cases of sexual violence, abandonment and economic hardship, “when the woman is the victim, it’s reasonable that civil society and the legal system seek her defense and protection.”

“(But) one cannot hide or minimize the fact that every pregnancy implies the existence of another human being, other than the mother, in defenseless and vulnerable conditions, who in turn has the right to be part of the human family,” the bishops said.

“Protecting the supposed right to suppress an innocent human life puts at risk the very foundation of our social order and the rule of law,” the bishops said.

Before the court decision, abortion was only legal in circumstances such as a pregnancy putting the mother’s health or life at risk; the fetus being malformed; or cases of rape or incest.

After the decision, crowds of supporters outside the court cheered and waved green handkerchiefs, the symbol of abortion rights campaigners throughout the region. Pro-life groups also gathered to await the decision and expressed disappointment.

One Latin American church observer said Catholic and Protestant congregations in the region will have to confront the push for abortion decriminalization.

“The church is always going to take a pro-life stand,” Oblate Father Leo Pérez, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Collection for the Church in Latin America, said in a November interview. “But it seems like those secularizing forces then see the church as antiquated and backward and maybe even an enemy.”