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Mexico's Supreme Court Has Voted To Decriminalize Abortion

Activists supporting the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico march in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 28, 2019. Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish abortion.
Ulises Ruiz
AFP via Getty Images
Activists supporting the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico march in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 28, 2019. Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish abortion.

Updated September 7, 2021 at 7:12 PM ET

Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish abortion as a crime, a landmark ruling that clears the way for the legalization of abortion across the country.

The court took up the issue on Monday when eight of 11 justices voted to revoke a law in the state of Coahuila that punished women with up to three years in prison for having an abortion — even in cases of rape. The other three justices joined in the decision Tuesday, declaring such laws unconstitutional.

"Today is a historic day for the rights of all Mexican women," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar on Tuesday.

"It is a watershed in the history of the rights of all women, especially the most vulnerable," he added.

The ruling sets a precedent that would force judges across Mexico home to one of the world's largest populations of Catholicsto hand down similar rulings and expands early abortion for millions of women in Mexico's 32 states.

Women in Mexico were inspired by activists in Argentina

The decision was being celebrated as a major victory for the women's rights movement across Latin America that has gained momentum in recent years, prompted by record femicide rates and a major abortion rights victory in Argentina last year.

Inspired by that hard-fought triumph, tens of thousands of women in Mexico have taken up green bandanas — a symbol of abortion-rights activists in Argentina — calling for the decriminalization of abortion beyond the four states where it is legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

"This Supreme Court decision has legal ripple effects beyond the Mexican state of Coahuila and applies across Mexico," Paula Avila-Guillen, executive director of the Women's Equality Center, said in a statement following the decision.

"As of this moment, any Mexican state that criminalizes abortion is in direct defiance of the Federal Constitution. As of this decision, all Mexican states where abortion is still criminalized are obligated to modify their legal frameworks to comply with the standard set by the Court," Avila-Guillen added.

She noted that the ruling sets a precedent for women who are currently behind bars for seeking an abortion to be freed.

The decision follows the new Texas abortion law

Avila-Guillen called Mexico's decision a bright spot in the fight to protect women's reproductive rights around the world — one that comes just days after Texas enacted what amounts to the strictest anti-abortion measure in the U.S. The Texas law bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

"The pro-rights 'Green Wave' is poised to take over the region and bring it to the 21st Century, even as we see the United States Supreme Court and Texas walk women back into darkness," she said.

Now that women in Coahuila, which borders the state of Texas, can choose to terminate their pregnancies through the first trimester, Avila-Guillen suggests some American women may benefit from Mexico's new law.

She asks: "Could the safest way for Texan women to have access to a safe, legal abortion soon be to make their way to Mexico?"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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