Mexico’s Supreme Court Rules That Abortion Care for Rape Survivors is a Human Right

In 2015 and 2016, two women named Marimar and Fernanda became pregnant as a result of rape, but healthcare providers in Morelos and Oaxaca—the Mexican states where they lived, respectively, refused to provide them with abortion care. They took legal action—and, in two landmark decisions last month, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in their favor, granting both women compensation and reaffirming the fact that denying access to abortion after rape is a violation of their human rights.

Fotografías Emergentes / Creative Commons

Although the Court has reviewed norms regarding reproductive rights before, this ruling marks the first time it “pronounced itself in individual cases of abortion rejection in the country,” Regina Tamés, executive director of GIRE, explained to Ms., “cases where a woman claims justice.”

The passage of the Victims General Law in 2013, along with a previous ruling by the Court, removed any pre-requirements to request abortion care for victims of rape. Women and girls over 12 in Mexico who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence have the legal right to demand an abortion, and should not be commanded to hand in a police report or obtain public authorization or parental consent.

Since 1992, GIRE has collected and driven information on sexual and reproductive rights and health in Mexico. Although under-reporting impacts date on rape and sexual assault, 1,640 sexual violence crimes are reported in Mexico each day—representing an estimated 10 percent at most, of all actual cases. The organization estimates that out of 600,000 sexual crimes committed in the nation per year, nine out of 10 victims are women. 

Considering the figures, then, it raises an eyebrow that between 2009 and 2016, federal and local health services only reported 63 abortions provided to rape victims. The recent ruling by the Court is a step forward against impunity—because, as Tamés pointed out, “there is a great gap between law and compliance,” and the battle for abortion access does not end with ruling and laws. The battle ends with changing norms—and guaranteeing such policies are implemented.

Navigating the laws, however, is also an obstacle. Each state holds a different approach on reproductive rights in Mexico; in Mexico City, abortion is permitted for up to 12 weeks, while in other states it remains highly restricted, with only national laws forcing doctors’ hands. (Some doctors also claim personal objections, but the law requires that abortion be available with no exception. Medical institutions cannot claim an objection, only individual healthcare providers can.)

Because of its patchwork of abortion policies, many women in Mexico are not aware of their rights. Some even travel to Mexico City for abortion access, which Tamés noted is a “discriminatory limitation,” adding that Marimar and Fernanda demanding the end of their pregnancies in their states was a good sign.

Beyond awareness about the legal landscape and the challenge of locating abortion services, Tamés believes the greatest obstacle to access is that at the root of many anti-abortion laws and attitudes around the world: “machismo rooted in the health services and questioning women.” The Court’s ruling was a victory in this regard, too, since it chose to stand firmly in defining abortion access in these cases as a human right.

In the wake of this victory, however, Tamés does not foresee legal access to abortion becoming a national reality in Mexico in the short term. The so-called ‘biggest election’ in the country’s modern history is just around the corner, but reproductive rights will likely not play a major role in shaping the agendas of candidates across the aisle. And although considerable efforts have been made as of late to push the dial on abortion rights in Latin America—in Mexico City and Uruguay, for example—Mexico is still a staunchly Catholic country, and the potential political alliances after the election look quite conservative. 

“Conservative and anti-rights groups feel pretty comfortable and empowered now,” Tamés said, “after Trump’s triumph.” After this ruling, one can only hope feminists on the ground feel the same way—and continue to fight for an end to draconian and discriminatory laws that deprive women of their autonomy and rights.

Ana Muñoz Padrós is a freelance journalist based in Chile.

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