Home World Mexico ends a federal ban on abortion, but government restrictions remain

Mexico ends a federal ban on abortion, but government restrictions remain

Mexico ends a federal ban on abortion, but government restrictions remain

The Mexican Supreme Court ruling, which nullified all federal criminal penalties for abortion, continued a regional trend of expanding access to the procedure, but left behind a patchwork of various state restrictions.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the removal of abortion from the federal penal code, and would require the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to provide abortion to anyone who requests it.

And that means reaching millions of Mexicans. The Social Security Service and other federal institutions provide health care to most people who work in the formal economy.

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“No woman, pregnant woman or health worker will be penalized for having an abortion,” the information group for Selected Reproduction, known by its Spanish initials GIRE, said in a statement.

Abortions are not widely prosecuted as a crime, but many doctors refuse to provide them, citing the law.

However, about 20 Mexican states still criminalize abortion. These laws were not affected by the Supreme Court ruling, but abortion rights advocates will likely ask state judges to follow its logic.

Celebration of the ruling quickly spread to social media.

“Today is the day of victory and justice for Mexican women!” Mexico’s National Institute of Women wrote a message on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The government organization described the decision as a “major step” towards gender equality.

Senator Olga Sanchez Cordero, a former Supreme Court justice, applauded the ruling, saying on “X” that it represented progress toward “a more just society in which the rights of all are respected.” It called on the Mexican Congress to pass legislation in response.

But others in the deeply religious country decried the decision. Irma Barrientos, director of the Civil Society for Perceived Rights, said opponents will continue to fight against expanding access to abortion.

Abortion banner

A woman holds a sign that reads, in Spanish, “Legal, Safe and Free Abortion,” during a demonstration for abortion rights in Mexico City on September 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, file)

“We will not stop,” Barrientos said. “Let’s remember what happened in the United States. After 40 years, the Supreme Court overturned its decision to abort, and we will not stop until Mexico guarantees the right to life from the moment of conception.”

The court said on “X” that the “legal regime criminalizing abortion” in Mexican federal law is unconstitutional because it “violates the human rights of women and people of childbearing capacity.”

The decision came two years after the court ruled that abortion is not a crime in a northern state. This ruling set in motion a slow state-by-state process of decriminalization.

Last week, the central state of Aguascalientes became the twelfth state to drop criminal penalties.

Abortion rights activists will have to continue to seek state-by-state legalization, though Wednesday’s decision should make that easier. State legislatures can also act on their own to overturn abortion penalties.

For now, the ruling does not mean that every Mexican woman will be able to access the measure immediately, explained Fernanda Diaz de Leon, sub-director and legal expert for women’s rights group IPAS.

What it does, in theory, is oblige federal agencies to provide care to patients. This is likely to have a series of effects.

Removing the federal ban removes another excuse providers use to refuse abortions in states where the procedure is no longer a crime, Diaz de Leon said.

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She added that women in formal employment who are part of the Social Security system and government employees are also allowed to seek the measure in federal institutions in states where abortion is still criminalized.

Diaz de Leon and officials of other feminist organizations worry that women may be denied abortion, especially in more conservative areas.

“It’s a very important step,” Diaz de Leon said. But “we have to wait and see how this will be implemented and how far it will go.”

Across Latin America, countries have taken steps to lift restrictions on abortion in recent years, a trend often referred to as the “green wave,” in reference to the green bands carried by women protesting abortion rights in the region.

The changes in Latin America contrast sharply with the growing restrictions on abortion in parts of the United States. Some American women were already seeking help from Mexican abortion rights activists to obtain the pills used to terminate pregnancies.

Mexico City was the first Mexican jurisdiction to decriminalize abortion in 16 years.

After decades of activists working across the region, this trend has accelerated in Argentina, which legalized the measure in 2020. In 2022, Colombia, a very conservative country, did the same.

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Last year the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the right to abortion nationwide. Since then, most states led by conservative lawmakers and governors have adopted bans or stricter restrictions.

And the fact that the US government is politically divided makes a nationwide ban or legislation unlikely, at least in the short term.

Currently, abortion throughout pregnancy is prohibited – with limited exceptions – in 15 US states. Prohibitions in two other states prohibit abortion after cardiac activity is detected, usually after about six weeks of pregnancy, and often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Judges have suspended the restrictions in at least four additional states.

Meanwhile, countries with liberal governments have taken steps to try to protect access to abortion.

Observers in Mexico agreed it would take some time to see how Wednesday’s ruling would be enforced.

And in the southern state of Guerrero, Marina Reina, director of the Guerrero Association Against Violence Against Women, warned that the challenges would continue. Her state decriminalized abortion last year, but there are 22 investigations open against women accused of terminating their pregnancies.

“There is still a lot of resistance,” she added.

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