Mexico ends federal ban on abortion

The Supreme Court of Mexico on Wednesday ended all federal criminal penalties for abortion, ruling that federal public health services must provide the procedure to anyone who requests it.

The ruling stated that the federal criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional because it “violates the human rights of women and people with the ability to gestate.”

The decision follows a trend of increased access to abortion across Latin America, sometimes called the “green wave,” referencing the green bandanas worn by protesters pushing for abortion rights in the region. Mexico City became the first Mexican jurisdiction to decriminalize abortion as early as 2007, and the current regional wave has so far seen Argentina legalize it in 2020, and highly conservative Columbia follow suit in 2022.

While abortions are not widely prosecuted criminally in Mexico, many doctors have historically refused to provide them due to state and now-defunct federal laws. While this decision does not immediately guarantee abortion access for the whole country, it creates an obligation for federal agencies to provide the procedure as a part of care for patients.

Senator and former Supreme Court Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero called the decision a move toward “a more just society, in which the rights of everyone are respected” in a social media post.

“Today is a day of victory and justice for Mexican women!” Mexico’s National Institute for Women likewise announced on social media.

However, some state-level restrictions remain in place. About twenty of Mexico’s 31 states still criminalize abortion, and will not have their laws impacted by the decision, but abortion rights advocates are likely to press state-level judges and legislatures to follow the Supreme Court’s lead. In addition, federal institutions in these states can still provide the procedure to women employed by the federal government or social security system.

Opponents of abortion in Mexico also cited the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. as reason to keep fighting against expanded abortion access.

“We’re not going to stop,” said Irma Barrientos, director of the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived. “Let’s remember what happened in the United States. After 40 years, the Supreme Court reversed its abortion decision, and we’re not going to stop until Mexico guarantees the right to life from the moment of conception.”

The full ramifications of the ruling will likely take time to become evident, and both sides are likely to watch its implementation closely.

(Photo courtesy of Marco Ugarte | AP)


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