Across the border from Texas, Mexico’s Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion last Tuesday. The decision by the second-largest Catholic country strikes a marked contrast against its northern neighbor.
Mexico SC Votes To Decriminalize Abortion
The Supreme Court ruling stems from a Northern Coahuila state law imposing prison terms for women who underwent abortions. Ten SC judges voted to rule Coahuila’s law unconstitutional, as the 11th judge was absent.
The ruling will apply to Mexico’s other states as well. Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar said that “Today is a watershed in the history of the rights of women and pregnant people, above all the most vulnerable.”
The vote to decriminalize abortion comes as women’s rights advocates are sweeping the country. Around half of Mexico’s National Congress is made up of women.
Even as abortion remains illegal in most of Latin America, many are now calling for changes. Mexico, in particular, is now in the midst of demanding more rights for women.
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Apart from Coahuila, another four of Mexico’s 32 federal states allow abortion. These are Oaxaca, Veracruz, Hidalgo and Mexico City. Abortion is also an available option for women who became pregnant through rape.
Mexico Joins Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana
With the landmark SC ruling to decriminalize abortion, Mexico joins a circle of progressive Latin American countries. Apart from Mexico, only Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana allow abortions under any circumstance.
Melissa Ayala, the litigation coordinator for GIRE, a Mexican feminist organization, lauded the decision. “This will not only have an impact in Mexico; it will set the agenda for the entire Latin American region,” she said.
Meanwhile, other Latin American countries deem abortion illegal for any reason. For example, El Salvador charges women accused of aborting a fetus with assault or homicide charges. Guilty persons face multiple years in prison.
Anti-Abortion Groups Protest Decision
The Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize abortion is far from a unanimous view in the Catholic country. Anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the SC while judges deliberated.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church had expressed its concern. In a “From The Faith” magazine editorial, it gave judges advice on how to handle the matter.“Don’t create a huge setback just to please an ideology in vogue, or due to peer pressure,” it urged.
In addition, Mexico’s conservative National Action Party also rejected the court’s arguments. “We are in favor of defending life from the moment of conception until natural death,” the party said via a statement.
Despite the opposition, politicians and action groups can do little. Under Mexican law, a supreme court ruling supported by at least eight justices supersedes state laws.
However, it will take some time for states to adjust the laws to make abortion widely available.
Mexico’s Decision to Decriminalize Abortion Has Ripple Effects
Paula Avila-Guillen, executive director of the New York-based Women’s Equality Center, looks forward to the changes. “Abortion has been effectively decriminalized in Mexico. And every woman currently imprisoned in the country for abortion can use this precedent to be freed,” she said.
It remains unclear how many Mexicans are in prison on abortion charges. In a recent study, GIRE said that at least 500 criminal trials were made between 2007 and 2016.
However, the group said it couldn’t find data for many states. After Brazil, Mexico is the second-largest Catholic country based on population. 75% of Mexicans identify themselves as Catholic.
Despite their leanings on Catholicism, the government remains secular. In addition, clerical abuse scandals in the country help erode faith in the Church.
Watch the Reuters news video reporting that Mexico’s top court decriminalizes abortion in ‘watershed moment’:
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