On the 6th of September, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled to decriminalise abortion across all of the states of Mexico.
Mexico is a federal country, and individual states hold similar legal powers to states in the US. This has resulted in abortion laws being vastly different from state to state in the Latin American country.
“In cases of rape, no girl can be forced to become a mother – neither by the state nor by her parents nor her guardians,” said the head of the supreme court, Arturo Zaldívar.
“Here, the violation of her rights is more serious, not only because of her status as a victim, but also because of her age, which makes it necessary to analyse the issue from the perspective of the best interests of minors.”
This ruling opens a pathway for the federal healthcare system of Mexico to provide abortions, leading to more uniformity and regulation of practice across the country. The decision to decriminalise abortion has been praised by women’s rights groups across Mexico and the world.
The decision comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the northern state of Coahuila could not impose sanctions on an individual for having an abortion. This began a domino effect across Mexico, with many states revisiting the question of abortion’s legality, with many decriminalising the act.
Aguascalientes became the 12th state to make a move to decriminalise earlier this month. In the ruling, it was stated that judges in states that still criminalise abortion will have to take account of the top court’s ruling.
In Mexico, before this latest development, abortion was mostly available in states in the south of the country, with others scattered across the rest of the country. Some areas of Mexico have had legal and safe abortions for a long time, Mexico City, the nation’s capital, being the first to take this approach 15 years ago.
Mexico is a Catholic country where the Church still retains a lot of cultural and social influence. Many suspect this ruling will anger conservative Mexicans and the Mexican Catholic Church.
This move follows a trend in Latin America of loosening and lifting laws restricting abortion. This comes even as to the north in the United States, abortion access is becoming tightly restricted.
Last year, Colombia, a country known for historically having harsh abortion laws, legalised abortion nationally. While this decision came in 2022, moves had been made internally since the 1990s to achieve abortion reforms. It is also legal in Uruguay and Cuba, with some other countries allowing it in selective cases, such as in the case of rape.
Other countries such as the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua all hold outright bans on abortion.
More widely, Latin American countries have continued to serve as laboratories for feminist activism in recent years. Notably, the Chilean protest song “Un Violador en Tu Camino” has been exported across Latin America and the rest of the world and has served as the soundtrack of women’s rights marches.
Mexico, a political and cultural leader within the region, making the move to decriminalise abortion serves as a litmus for the region’s direction.
Decriminalisation vs Legalisation:
It is important to note that the Supreme Court has decriminalised abortion on a national level. What this means is it is no longer a criminal offence to have an abortion anywhere in Mexico. It does not mean that abortion is legal nationally, meaning some states will still not legally offer abortions in hospitals.
Women living in states where abortion is still not legal will now be able to travel to states where abortions are legal. They will be able to return to their home states without fear of prosecution in their home state.
Decriminalisation often serves as a stepping stone to legality, though it is not guaranteed.
This ruling ends a period of two years of reforms across Mexico, unifying the country in its legal acceptance of abortion.
Some speculate that this will make Mexico a health tourism hotspot for women from countries in Central America and the United States, where access to abortion is either sparse or entirely unavailable.
It is yet to be seen how this decision will shape the direction of women’s rights in Mexico. Many are applauding the decision, but many groups and individuals within Mexican society are critical of the ruling.