Mexico Decriminalizes Abortion, Following Global Reproductive Rights Trends
In a landmark ruling, Mexico’s Supreme Court has decriminalized abortion, marking a significant step towards expanding abortion access in Latin America. This move puts the region more in line with global reproductive rights trends, in stark contrast to the United States, where abortion rights were revoked last year following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Interestingly, Mexico’s decision to open up abortion access comes despite lower support for abortion rights compared to the United States, where restrictions on abortion have been tightening in recent times. Mexico, being a secular country with a Catholic majority, has traditionally seen the Catholic Church exert significant political and popular power.
So what exactly happened in Mexico this week?
In a sweeping national decision, Mexico’s highest court eliminated federal criminal penalties for abortion. This victory has been celebrated by reproductive rights groups, who believe that it will have far-reaching impacts on reproductive policies across the region. The ruling ensures that individuals across Mexico will be able to access abortion care at federal health facilities, even in states that have prohibitive abortion laws.
Carmen Cecilia Martinez, from the Center for Reproductive Rights, emphasized that about 70% of Mexico’s population is covered by the federal health system. Therefore, this ruling is expected to have a massive and collective impact on reproductive healthcare access.
In its ruling, the Mexican court reaffirmed an earlier decision stating that laws criminalizing abortion were unconstitutional. The court ordered the country’s Congress to remove penalties for abortion from the penal codes before the end of the current session.
The court’s statement highlighted that the criminalization of abortion is an act of violence and gender discrimination. It perpetuates the notion that women and pregnant individuals can only exercise their sexuality freely for procreation. This stance aligns with the World Health Organization’s guidelines on reproductive rights.
Globally, there is a growing trend towards fulfilling international recommendations regarding legal frameworks for abortion. Over the past 30 years, more than 60 countries, including Spain, Thailand, South Africa, and South Korea, have liberalized their abortion laws. In contrast, the United States, alongside Poland, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, is among the few nations that have restricted abortion rights during this period.
According to Elyse Ona Singer, an assistant professor of anthropology, Americans’ support for reproductive rights stems from the longer history of legal abortion in the United States. In Mexico, most progress has been achieved over the past two decades. Singer also notes that Catholic teachings often differ from how people navigate their daily lives. Scandals involving sexual abuse within the clergy have led many Mexicans to question traditional teachings on abortion, resulting in shifting public opinion towards support for reproductive rights.
In conclusion, Mexico’s decriminalization of abortion reflects the broader global trend towards expanding reproductive rights. It highlights the increasing willingness of countries to address the need for legal frameworks that align with international recommendations. Meanwhile, the United States stands among a small group of countries that are rolling back reproductive rights, putting it out of step with the rest of the world.
Mexico’s Decriminalization of Abortion Culminates Decades of Activism, but Access Challenges Remain
While Mexico’s recent Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion is a significant milestone for reproductive rights, challenges to abortion access persist in the country. Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, went against even higher levels of support for abortion rights in the United States. Elyse Ona Singer, an assistant professor of anthropology, attributes this difference to the right-wing composition of the U.S. Supreme Court and the justices appointed by Donald Trump.
Carmen Cecilia Martinez of the Center for Reproductive Rights emphasizes that the Mexican court’s decision is the result of decades of activism and legal efforts led by organizations like Mexico’s Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE). Mexico criminalized abortion in 1931, and it was only around 2000 that restrictions began to gradually loosen. In 2007, Mexico City made a historic vote to decriminalize abortion in the first trimester, providing abortion care through the Ministry of Health.
Since then, Mexico has seen a period of abortion-rights activism, reminiscent of the movement in the United States during the 1970s. Despite abortion remaining illegal in most of the country, an estimated one million unsafe abortions took place annually until 2019. States like Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Baja California started decriminalizing abortion, but the significant breakthrough occurred in 2021 when the Mexican Supreme Court declared the criminalization of abortion unconstitutional in the state of Coahuila. This ruling initiated a state-by-state process, led by GIRE, towards abortion decriminalization. The recent decision in Aguascalientes marked the twelfth state to remove criminal penalties for abortion.
However, this is an ongoing battle, with activists and organizations still pushing for state-by-state legalization efforts. While the recent decision should facilitate this process, state legislatures also have the ability to remove abortion penalties independently. Not everyone supports the decision, with groups like the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived vowing to continue fighting against expanded abortion access, citing the need to protect the right to life from the moment of conception.
Despite Mexico’s landmark ruling, immediate accessibility to abortion care is not expected nationwide, especially for residents facing geographic or ideological barriers. Singer notes that medical professionals may claim conscientious objection, and stigma surrounding abortion may hinder accessibility, particularly in remote and conservative areas. However, Singer predicts that American women seeking abortions may increasingly seek services across the border as a result.
Fernanda Díaz de León, a legal expert for women’s rights group IPAS, acknowledges that the removal of the federal ban eliminates an excuse often used by care providers to deny abortions in states where the procedure is no longer a crime. However, she expresses concerns that women, particularly in conservative areas, may still face barriers to accessing abortions. While the recent ruling is an important step forward, its application and reach are yet to be determined.