Women in Mexico City celebrate victory at the Supreme Court.
Patrick O’Heffernan Ajijic (JAL) After a decade-long drive by women’s rights groups in Mexico, the Supreme Court has unanimously declared that state laws criminalizing abortion are unconstitutional. The unanimous decision of all 11 judges purpassed the threshold of judges needed to make the decision binding on the judges in all states.
The case was decided in a challenge to a law in the northern state of Coahuila, which could require prison for a woman for up to three years for having an abortion. The Court struck down the state law and went on to find broadly that any criminal penalties for abortion violated Mexico’s Constitution.
Currently the city of Mexico and the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz allow abortion on request to any woman up to twelve weeks into a pregnancy, while abortion has been severely restricted in Jalisco and Mexico’s other states. Last year, according to Statistica, 100 women were prosecuted in conservative states for having an abortion, while as of March 2021, a total of 234,513 women in Mexico received legal abortions in Mexico City, 63,000 of whom came from other states. The Gutmacher Institute estimated that in 2006, the year when data is available, an estimated 875,000 women received abortions in Mexico, and 150,000 women were hospitalized for botched illegal abortions.
Catholic Church leaders expressed dismay at the decision, posting an article in one of its publications, and issuing a tweet condemning the decision and abortion. The Mexican bishops’ conference expressed sorrow over the Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion, while other church leaders called on Catholics to “not to be indifferent” on issues of life. While Mexico is a predominately Catholic country, over the past 10 years, women, including Catholic women, have repeatedly taken to the streets of major cities to demand greater rights and protections and the decriminalization of abortion.
The decision does not make abortion legal across Mexico but rather binds judges and prosecutor judges across the country to refrain from prosecuting women who have had the procedure, or anyone else involved, such as doctors.
The decision comes amid rising power of women and women’s organizations nationwide, and determined protests to stop the pervasive violence against women and demand full rights. The movement has seen an influx of women into political office, including the powerful Mayor of Mexico City, and social challenges to customs such as the use of masculine endings in nouns and adjectives that refer to women.
The decision also stands in contrast to the US Supreme Court’s failure to stay a Texas law restricting abortion to the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant, setting off political clashes across Mexico’s southern neighbor. The decision will likely result in Mexico’s becoming the most populous Latin American country to allow abortion, and could impact women’s choices in Texas.
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