50.50: Feature

Trans men in Colombia struggle to access safe abortion

Trans men in Colombia are at high risk of being raped, but if they become pregnant they often can’t get the help they need

Colectiva Valkirias: Laura Rodríguez Salamanca, Nathalia Acosta Salazar, Valeria Cobo, Nathalia Angarita, María Fernanda Morales
27 October 2021, 1.44pm
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“Have you seen what happens to a glass when you hit it with a hammer? It smashes into tiny pieces. That’s how I felt: smashed to pieces,” says Daniel, explaining how a doctor at a nearby hospital refused to authorise an abortion for him.

The gynaecologist who refused to terminate Daniel’s pregnancy – which was the result of gang rape – told him that he was a “faggot” who “also pisses off the bad guys.”

Daniel (who is using a pseudonym so that his daughter will not be able to identify him, as he would not know how to explain to her about her start in life) is one of many gender-diverse survivors of sexual violence during the Colombian armed conflict. Getting his voice heard became a priority after he was refused an abortion.

Militants view trans men as cisgender women who ‘belong’ to them and must be punished for ‘wanting to be men’, according to a 2015 report by the country’s National Center for Historical Memory.

In 2006, Colombia’s constitutional court decriminalised abortion if the woman’s life or health is in danger, if there are fatal foetal anomalies, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Although trans men face a significant risk of rape and may get pregnant as a result, the current legal system offers them no support.

The legislation governing abortion explicitly mentions women, leaving out people with other gender identities who are able to get pregnant. This legal loophole is used by some as a way to deny gender-diverse people the right to abortion.

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Daniel tried to take legal action against the doctor’s decision but was told that the doctor’s ethical code took precedence. “That was when I realised that Colombia is like a book stuffed full of codes, strategies and pathways that aren’t worth a damn,” he told us.

María Susana Peralta, a lawyer with LGBT rights group Colombia Diversa, explained that the denial of these rights to trans men is illegal. “Believing that trans men fall outside this law is discriminatory and unjustified [...] it fails to respect individual dignity.”

Problems accessing abortion

It isn’t clear how many trans and non-binary people manage to access abortions in Colombia, Marttín Junco, a researcher at the Trans Male Abortion Alliance of Colombia (ATAC), told us. Official data includes only ‘male’ and ‘female’ as gender options.

This is why ATAC and the organisation Profamilia decided to conduct the first-ever Colombian survey on access to abortion for trans men and non-binary individuals. Of the 141 people interviewed, 10% said they had needed an abortion at some point in their life – but more than a third of those were unable to access the procedure.

Ángel Mendoza from ATAC told us that the first barrier they identified is a mistrust of the health system. “This means many people won’t go to a proper doctor, exposing them to insecure procedures, or [leaving them] with unwanted children.”

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The study also found that 7% of those needing an abortion were unable to access the service due to poverty.

“Many trans people are out of work or do not have [enough] money,” Mendoza said. “Economic accessibility is a very big problem and private abortion services are expensive.”

We are forced to seek abortions with underground providers, putting our lives at risk

“We are forced to seek abortions with underground providers, putting our lives at risk,” Junco explained. Alternatively, it “forces some of us to renounce our transition processes to undertake enforced maternity. This is harmful.”

For Daniel, the denial of abortion led to a stressful pregnancy and birth. His mother is the legal guardian of his daughter, but he is very close to her.

“I have learnt to look at my daughter differently. What happened to me broke me into pieces, but I have started to do what you would do with a broken vase: I am gluing the pieces back together again.”

This is an edited translation of ‘Todes Abortamos’ (We all Abort), a report created collaboratively in the Laboratorio de Historias Poderosas (The Powerful Stories Laboratory) by the Chicas Poderosas (Powerful Girls), with the support of the Open Society Foundations. You can read the full version in Spanish here.

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