By: Nadia Liu
In a decision that builds on a previous ruling that allowed abortions on a state-by-state basis, Mexico’s supreme court unanimously ruled to decriminalize abortion on a federal level nationwide on Sept. 6. The court declared that state laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights, asserting that “criminalization of abortion constitutes an act of gender-based violence and discrimination, as it perpetuates the stereotype that women and people with the capacity to get pregnant can only freely exercise their sexuality to procreate and reinforces the gender role that imposes motherhood as a compulsory destiny.”
The recent ruling comes two years after the court ordered the northern state of Coahuila to remove sanctions on abortion from its criminal code, deciding that criminal penalties for abortions were unconstitutional. The decision prompted a state-by-state process of legal battles, with 12 of Mexico’s 32 states decriminalizing the procedure so far.
The decision is a massive win for GIRE, a leading Mexican reproductive rights group that filed an injunction last year against the regulation that criminalized the procedure. “I’m very moved and very proud. This makes possible what we had not achieved in many years, which is that at least in certain institutions all across the country legal and safe abortion services can be provided,” remarked GIRE executive director Rebeca Ramos.
The court ruling has no effect on local laws, and Mexico’s two congressional chambers will now need to pass an accompanying law that eliminates abortion from the country’s penal code. In a press release, GIRE stated, “We’re confident congress, whose legislation still provides obstacles to reproductive autonomy, will take account of the critiques of the highest court in the land, and will guarantee once and for all the right to choose.” While abortion technically remains illegal in 20 states, women can now legally seek abortion in federal hospitals and clinics even in those states. The court decision also prohibits the penalization of employees performing the procedure at those facilities.
Argentina legalized the procedure in 2020 and Colombia followed suit two years later. With Mexico following, countries including Uruguay and Guyana have moved to either legalize or decriminalize abortion. The regional move toward granting women more reproductive rights stands in contrast to the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. While many Latin American countries are heading towards the decriminalization of abortion, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Suriname still have a complete ban on abortion.
Although the majority of Mexico remains culturally conservative, decades of feminist activism has reshaped the way that people view women’s rights, and the latest ruling showcases how far things have progressed. “We’re on a very good path. This is a recognition that women and people with the ability to gestate have agency and we are first-class citizens. That democracy is coming to us, as well,” stated Ramos.
(Sources: AP News, BBC, NPR, NY Times)