The Supreme Court of Mexico decriminalized abortion after a historic decision approved unanimously by ministers gathered in plenary session. “From now on, it will not be possible to prosecute any woman who has an abortion in the cases considered by this court,” said the president of the court, Arturo Zaldívar. It is a “new path to freedom, clarity, dignity and respect, and a great step forward in its historic struggle for equality and for the exercise of its rights”, he added. The Mexican justice thus opens an agile path for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, a very unequal practice across the country, where only four of the 32 states have regulated abortion, setting deadlines. In the others, the issue is treated with restrictive norms that only consider the risks for the mother, fetal malformations and cases of rape as non-punishable causes of abortion. And they are not always fulfilled.
Activists for decriminalization have this Tuesday one of the most important days in their fight for the right to abortion, green scarves fluttered in the street. Mexico is far behind on this matter, which has been patched up through court decisions over time, by which some regional regulations were declared unconstitutional. This Tuesday, the justice returned to collaborate on an issue in which the federal government refuses to legislate so as not to open spaces for “confrontation”, as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador once said, although he has not spoken openly against abortion. Women “and pregnant people”, as they are usually described, cannot be punished at any time for having had an abortion in Mexico. “The court thus demonstrates, with facts and judgments, that its only commitment is with the Constitution and with Human Rights,” said Zaldívar.
The court ministers debated for two days an action of unconstitutionality from the States of Coahuila and Sinaloa, which were very restrictive with the termination of pregnancy, since in one of them it was punishable by imprisonment from one to three years and in the other it was prohibited based on a norm that considered the existence of life from the moment of conception. The court’s decision was based on the woman’s autonomy to decide on motherhood, in addition to other concepts about prenatal life. “Talking about an idea of life goes beyond the law and a constitutional court cannot base its decisions on private and subjective opinions, but on universal ones”, said Minister Margarita Ríos Farjat. And he added: “The foundation of the criminal law to punish is not the legislator’s prerogative, but of Human Rights, the rest are sophisms that obscure the problem of women.” It is up to the States to “guarantee public health and safety”, he added. “The threat of imprisonment of women and the stigma are banned,” said the rapporteur minister, Luis María Aguilar Morales.
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The plenary of the court also declared invalid an article of the Penal Code of Coahuila in which rape within a marriage or in a couple was less penalized than in other cases. Here, too, unanimity was reached.
The great step taken in Mexico, a country with deep convictions not only Catholic, but also other religions that are even more restrictive with these practices, no matter how secular their constitutional and historical precepts, places it in line with the legal modernity that other nations have already achieved. Much celebrated worldwide was the right to abortion approved in Argentina in December last year. Mexico could not be left behind and it is hoped that this court decision will lay the foundations for future legislation in states that do not yet have it.
Mexico City anticipated in 2007 with a law that establishes a 12-week period for terminating a pregnancy without giving explanations or reasons. Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz followed. Across the country, between 750,000 and one million illegal abortions are performed each year, and a third of them result in complications that require urgent medical attention. Thousands of women lose their lives with home interventions or arrive with hemorrhages in hospitals, where they normally do not find the understanding of health professionals, who fear that the state will take action against them for facilitating abortion. Conscientious objection is something the Supreme Court must also resolve shortly.
Recently, the Supreme Court also declared unconstitutional the existence of a specific deadline for abortion in case of rape, and forced the State of Chiapas to modify this matter in its legislation, which in 2018 prevented the termination of the pregnancy of a 17-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. The pregnancy had already completed the 90 days of the allowed period.
Mexico recently reformed its judiciary. Now a unanimous voted plenary decision is enough to create jurisprudence – before, five similar ones were needed. Therefore, this Tuesday’s decision is considered historic among those who defend that the woman is free to decide about her own body in case of unwanted pregnancy. The magistrates took into account the broad context of violence in which women live in the country.
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