A Year After the Decriminalization of Abortion in Mexico: What Latin America Can Teach the Rest of the World

A group protests the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, outside the United States embassy in Mexico on June 29, 2022. (Alfredo Estrella / AFP by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images)

This month, we mark the one-year anniversary of two significant moments in reproductive rights history: the landmark decision in Mexico to decriminalize abortion, and the near-total abortion ban in Texas. With reproductive rights moving in such different directions, what can the U.S. learn from the progress feminists are seeing in Latin America?

What happened last year in Mexico isn’t happening in isolation. “La Marea Verde” (The Green Wave) is sweeping through the whole continent, challenging restrictive abortion bans and expanding women’s rights from Uruguay and Mexico to Chile, Argentina and Colombia.

This change would have been inconceivable even a decade ago. We have so much to learn from those who have paved the way and inspired the pro-choice movement across the world.

Grassroots Networks Can Transform Abortion Access

As Mexicans and as reproductive rights advocates, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. On Sept. 28, we will celebrate International Safe Abortion Day, a day started by Latin American women in the 1980s in response to restrictive abortion laws. Back then, women from across the region gathered in Argentina. The event became an annual celebration and a rallying call for reproductive rights across the world.

The first International Safe Abortion Day was game-changing for women. Brazilian women attending the event began spreading the word about a pill invented to treat gastric ulcers: misoprostol. Little known outside of Brazil at that time, the drug could be used to safely terminate an early pregnancy. After the event, knowledge of safe medical abortion spread by word of mouth, and the drug became an essential item for abortion care. Today, misoprostol is a vital lifeline to women and the drug is used—in conjunction with the drug mifepristone—as part of a two-step method for safely ending early pregnancy.

The World Health Organization recommends two regimens for medication abortion: misoprostol alone or combined with another medication, mifepristone. (Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images)

Today in the U.S., these drugs are heralded as a way to safeguard access, with groups like Plan C and Women on Web working to ensure access across the U.S. following the Supreme Court ruling repealing Roe v. Wade.

We Need to Make Decisions Based on Global Evidence

Since 2007 when abortion was legalized in Mexico City, there has been an 80 percent reduction in emergency cases and zero abortion-related deaths. In other countries where MSI Reproductive Choices works and abortion is legal, such as in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Nepal, progressive change has been lifesaving for countless women. In contrast, research suggests banning abortion in the U.S. could increase pregnancy-related deaths by 21 percent overall and by 33 percent for Black women. As many U.S. states adopt anti-abortion laws, some women will be forced to travel across the border to access safe abortion care in Mexico.

The situation in the U.S. is a reminder of how far we’ve come. We must look beyond our own borders and offer solidarity and support to women who have had their reproductive rights taken away. Our past should offer a reminder of the dangers of restricting abortion, while our present can offer hope and motivation to keep up the fight for progress.

We Can’t Count on Lawmakers to Repeal Restrictive Abortion Laws

Progress in Mexico did not emerge in a vacuum; nor were these rights granted to us by lawmakers alone. Latin America’s “La Marea Verde” has delivered ground-breaking progress on reproductive health and rights, and it was built by people taking to the streets. We are already seeing more people prepared to stand up and talk about the importance of abortion care. Today, the same green scarves worn by pro-choice advocates across Latin America are appearing in protest movements globally as a powerful symbol of unity.

Abortion has come a long way since reproductive rights activists gathered in Argentina 30 years ago. It’s their determination and sheer willpower that continues to provide inspiration for women fighting for safe abortion wherever they are today.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

Up next:


Araceli Lopez Nava Vázquez is the regional managing director of MSI Reproductive Choices in Latin America.