The Supreme Court of Mexico has decriminalised abortion on the federal level, joining a trend of abortion legalisation in Latin America.
The court confirmed its decision in a social media statement on Wednesday.
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“The legal system that penalises abortion in the Federal Criminal Code is unconstitutional since it violates the human rights of women and people with the ability to carry a fetus,” it wrote.
The ruling comes in response to a legal appeal launched by the Information Group for Chosen Reproduction (GIRE), a human rights organisation focused on reproductive rights.
The group celebrated the decision on social media, calling it “incredible”.
With this decision, GIRE explained, “federal health institutions throughout the country will have to provide abortion services to women and people with the capacity to get pregnant who request them”.
The GIRE punctuated its post with green hearts and hashtags like #SeptiembreVerde — or “Green September” — in reference to the colour that has come to symbolise the abortion rights movement across Latin America.
Previously, abortion was legal across the country in cases of rape, but otherwise, its legality was decided on a state-by-state basis.
In 2007, the Mexico City federal district became the first area to decriminalise the procedure for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
Other states have since followed suit. Just last week, on August 30, Aguascalientes in central Mexico became the 12th state or federal district to decriminalise abortion, joining areas like Oaxaca, Baja California and Veracruz.
Wednesday’s decision follows an earlier Supreme Court ruling in September 2021 that likewise determined that punishing patients for abortions was unconstitutional.
That decision, however, focused on the northern state of Coahuila, along the border with the United States.
But across the country, in areas where abortion remained criminalised, women have faced charges of manslaughter and other crimes for allegedly pursuing the procedure — or even having a miscarriage that was mistaken for an abortion.
Wednesday’s decision had a nationwide effect. Arturo Zaldivar, the former president of the Supreme Court, heralded the ruling with a social media post: “The green tide continues to advance. All rights for all women and pregnant people!”
However, religious and conservative groups in the heavily Catholic nation have opposed efforts to decriminalise abortion, citing beliefs in the rights of unborn fetuses.
According to the 2020 census, some 78 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, making Mexico home to the second-largest Catholic population in the world.
And yet, of an estimated 3,830,000 pregnancies in Mexico between 2015 and 2019, approximately 1,040,000 ended in abortion, according to the the Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation that supports abortion access.
In 2022, for instance, the Constitutional Court in Colombia ruled that abortion could be accessed up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. And in Argentina, the country’s congress approved a law to legalise the procedure during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in December 2020.
But even in countries where abortion has been decriminalised, access has not necessarily been readily available. Doctors have refused to provide the procedure, and abortion opponents have filed legal challenges to restore restrictions.