The increased access to abortion in Mexico stands in stark contrast to decreasing access in the U.S.—where 14 states now ban abortion entirely, and another eight ban abortion early in pregnancy.
The Mexican Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, Sept. 6, that national laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights. The sweeping decision entirely removed abortion from the federal penal code. The ruling also required the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to offer abortion to anyone who requests it.
In a statement, Mexico’s Supreme Court said the “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 decision ensures that no person can be criminally prosecuted for abortion in Mexico and that people can seek and provide abortion care at federal health clinics in any Mexican state.
“This decision is a historical milestone representing a turning point in the defense of reproductive justice,” said Rebecca Ramos, director of the reproductive rights organization GIRE, which filed the lawsuit leading to the Court’s decision.
Describing the decision a “big step” toward gender equality, Mexico’s National Institute for Women declared on Wednesday, “Today is a day of victory and justice for Mexican women!”
Abortion access in Mexico has increased in recent years. In 2007, Mexico City decriminalized abortion, but it wasn’t until 12 years later in 2019 that a second state—Oaxaca—decriminalized abortion.
In the last three years, 10 more states decriminalized abortion, including Aguascalientes state just last month, but 20 states still have criminal abortion laws on the books. The Supreme Court urged all judges at the federal and local levels to follow its precedent and strike down these laws.
The decision means that more than 70 percent of women and people with the capacity to get pregnant can now access a legal abortion in Mexico.Rebecca Ramos
“There is work to be done,” said Ramos. “We are hopeful that states that have yet to update their local laws will follow the lead of our nation’s highest court and act immediately to guarantee bodily autonomy.”
In states where abortion is still criminalized, women with formal employment who are part of the social security system and government employees may seek the procedure in federal institutions.
“The decision means that more than 70 percent of women and people with the capacity to get pregnant can now access a legal abortion in Mexico,” said Ramos.
The Mexican Supreme Court had previously issued several decisions increasing access to abortion. On Sept. 7, 2021, the Court ruled that the state of Coahuila’s criminal abortion laws were unconstitutional because they violated women’s human dignity, autonomy, equality, reproductive health and freedom.
Two days later, the Mexican Supreme Court declared the state of Sinaloa’s fetal personhood law unconstitutional.
Then on Sept. 21, 2021, the Supreme Court limited the use of conscientious objection by health staff by requiring the government to ensure that there are non-objectors in all federal health facilities or nearby.
In Mexico, where 3,830,000 million women a year get pregnant, 2 million were not intended and half ended in abortion. Federal decriminalization of abortion and federal health services offering the procedure will greatly increase access to abortion for Mexican women.
“We celebrate the Court’s decision as a significant victory for all women, girls, and people who can become pregnant in Mexico, and particularly for marginalized people who are most impacted by the criminalization of abortion,” said Giselle Carino, CEO of Fòs Feminista, an international feminist alliance.
The increased access to abortion in Mexico stands in stark contrast to decreasing access in the United States, where 14 states now ban abortion entirely and another eight states ban abortion early in pregnancy.
“Despite the horrific rollback of access in the United States, it is clear that the world is opening access to abortion, with Mexico now the latest example,” said Carino. “The Green Wave of feminists fighting in solidarity for abortion justice is stronger than ever.”
Known as the “Green Wave” for its green bandanas, the movement for abortion rights across Latin America has had several huge successes in that predominately Catholic region. In December 2020, they won legislation legalizing abortion in Argentina.
In February 2022, the Supreme Court of Colombia voted to decriminalize abortion up to 24 weeks.
In April 2022, abortion rights were included in the Chilean Constitution.
Abortion access has also recently expanded in Ecuador.
The Mexican Supreme Court ruling builds on these successes and could influence other countries in Latin America to protect women’s rights by decriminalizing abortion.
Advocates have promised to bring legal challenges to the remaining state-level criminal bans and are organizing to pass legislation in those states as well. Meanwhile, Sen. Olga Sánchez Cordero, a former Supreme Court justice, called on Mexico’s Congress to pass legislation legalizing abortion nationwide.
In addition to increasing abortion access for people in Mexico, decriminalization creates more abortion access for people living in surrounding countries where abortion is banned, including Guatemala and the United States.
“People will definitely travel to Mexico to get the care that they need,” said Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas, a global reproductive justice organization.
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