Mexico’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, in a decision that’s expected to set a precedent for decriminalizing nationwide. The court ordered northern state of Coahuila to remove sanctions for abortion from its criminal code.The historic 10-0 vote follows a 2018 case challenging a criminal law on abortion in Coahuila, which threatened women who undergo abortions with up to three years prison and a fine. Mexico is the world’s second-biggest Roman Catholic country (following Brazil) and this decision comes on the heels of Argentina, also a Catholic country, legalizing abortion in Dec. 2020.
“Today is a historic day for the rights of all Mexican women,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar said after the announcement. “It is a watershed in the history of the rights of all women, especially the most vulnerable.”
Coahuila’s state government issued a statement saying any women who were arrested for abortion should be released immediately, Reuters reported. This move is a sign of loosening restrictions surrounding abortion though decriminalization doesn’t mean it’s considered legal. Mexico City, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Hidalgo are the only four of the country’s 32 regions to decriminalize abortion in the first 12 weeks, yet the other 28 states penalize abortion with some exceptions. The Associated Press reported that there are currently no women imprisoned for abortions in Mexico, but there are some 4,600 open investigations for it, according to lawyer and activist Verónica Cruz, director of the feminist collective “Las Libres.”
¡Fallo histórico! Por unanimidad las y los ministros de la @SCJN establecieron que no se debe criminalizar a las mujeres y otras personas con capacidad de gestar por interrumpir su embarazo en el estado de Coahuila.#AbortoLegalYa #QueSubaLaMarea
— GIRE (@GIRE_mx) September 7, 2021
“We’re very happy that abortion has been decriminalized, and now we want it to be legal,” 26-year-old Karla Cihuatl, a member of feminist collective Frente Feminista in Saltillo, told Reuters. “This step has broken the stigma a little. But I believe that we still have to change the social aspect.”
Law professor Leticia Bonifaz of the National Autonomous University of Mexico told the AP that the case has been in the works for four years. She shared that in recent years justices and legal teams have received extensive education from the perspectives of gender and human rights. Justice Zaldívar wrote in his argument: “The criminalization of abortion punishes the poorest women, the most marginalized, the forgotten and most discriminated against, in the country. It’s a crime that in its nature punishes poverty.”
GRACIAS a todas las mujeres, col y ONGs Feministas lucharon en Coahuila y México 💚✊🏾 para que el aborto fuera despenalizado y llegará a un debate en la SCJN. Gracias a todas por la resistencia y lucha desde su trinchera. ¡Lo estamos tirándo! 🔥💜 pic.twitter.com/PWHglalKbK
— Voces Feministas (@VocesFeminista) September 8, 2021
Though religion informs policy, clandestine abortions are still carried out with 432 investigations opened into cases of illegal abortion in the first seven months of 2021 across Mexico, according to the Mexican government. “I’m against stigmatizing those who make this decision [to undergo an abortion] which I believe is difficult to begin with, due to moral and social burdens. It shouldn’t be burdened as well by the law. Nobody gets voluntarily pregnant thinking about getting an abortion later,” Supreme Court Justice Ana Margarita Ríos Farjat said, one of only three women among the court’s 11 justices.