Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade, abortion rights and access to the medical procedure have been under attack. However, many countries across Latin America have made efforts to provide access to safe procedures by legalizing abortion or making it more accessible. Most recently, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion on Wednesday, ruling that all national laws prohibiting the medical procedure are unconstitutional and a violation of women’s rights. The sweeping decision, which many are celebrating as a win in Mexico, extends a trending widening of abortion access in Latin America and comes after years of activism by Mexican women and feminist organizations.
The high court mandated that abortion must be removed from the federal penal code. This decision comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was not a crime in the northern state of Coahuila, setting off a gradual state-by-state process of decriminalizing the procedure. The first Mexican jurisdiction to throw out criminal penalties for abortion was Mexico City around 15 years ago, and as of last week, the central state of Aguascalientes is now the 12th state to decriminalize it.
“The First Chamber of #TheCourt has ruled that the juridical system that penalizes abortion in the Federal Criminal Code is unconstitutional because it violates the human rights of women and people with the capacity for pregnancy,” the court said in a statement in Spanish on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday afternoon.
La Primera Sala de #LaCorte resolvió que es inconstitucional el sistema jurídico que penaliza el aborto en el Código Penal Federal, ya que viola los derechos humanos de las mujeres y personas con capacidad de gestar.
— Suprema Corte (@SCJN) September 6, 2023
Judges in states that criminalize the procedure will have to take the Supreme Court’s ruling into account, as it now requires the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to offer an abortion to anyone who requests it. Despite this, 20 Mexican states still criminalize abortion, so while judges in those states must abide by the court’s decision, more legal work will have to be done in the future to remove all penalties for the procedure.
“No woman or pregnant person, nor any health worker, will be able to be punished for abortion,” the Information Group for Chosen Reproduction, known in Mexico by its Spanish initials GIRE, said in a statement on X, adding that the court’s decision means that the portion of the federal penal code criminalizing abortion no longer has any effect. Ipas México, a nonprofit organization supporting abortion rights for Mexican women, called the decision “historic” and applauded GIRE for its involvement in the case.
— Ipas México (@IpasMEX) September 6, 2023
According to Ipas México’s sub-director and legal expert Fernanda Díaz de León, the ruling does not indicate that every Mexican woman will be able to access abortion immediately, but it will require federal agencies to give patients the option to get the procedure. She explains that removing the federal ban on abortion dismisses the excuse used by medical providers to deny access to abortions in states where it’s no longer a crime. Additionally, it allows formally employed women who are in the social security system and government employees to seek an abortion in states where the procedure is still criminalized. However, she and officials at other feminist organizations worry that women in conservative areas may still be denied abortions despite the recent ruling.
“It’s a very important step,” Díaz de León told NPR. But “we need to wait to see how this is going to be applied and how far it reaches.”
Many took to social media to celebrate the news and how it’s indicative of progress for reproductive rights. d
“The green tide continues to advance,” Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar wrote on X in Spanish on Wednesday, referring to the green bandanas worn by women protesting for abortion rights all over Latin America. “All rights for women and people who gestate! Until equality and dignity become customary!”
La marea verde sigue avanzando. 💚💚💚
¡Todos los derechos para todas las mujeres y personas gestantes!
¡Hasta que la igualdad y la dignidad se vuelvan costumbre! https://t.co/iAvjGFmqUj
— Arturo Zaldívar (@ArturoZaldivarL) September 6, 2023
Mexico’s National Institute for Women also cheered on the ruling in a post on X, calling it a “big step” toward gender equality: “Today is a day of victory and justice for Mexican women!”