Updated: Sep 21
Mexico’s supreme court has unanimously ruled early this month that state laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights, in the latest in a series of victories for reproductive rights activists across Latin America.
The sweeping decision that would have once seemed almost impossible in this Catholic
country, where women were jailed for ending pregnancies.
It is a huge victory for abortion rights advocates who have pushed for such a comprehensive ruling since 2021 when Mexico's top Court first struck down the law criminalising abortion in the northern state of Coahuila. It had ruled that criminal penalties for terminating pregnancies were unconstitutional.
This landmark decision not only marks a victory for gender equality and bodily autonomy but also positions Mexico as a progressive leader in South America.
Let's delve into this milestone and compare it with the state of abortion rights in other countries in the region.
Mexico's Progressive Move
Mexico's Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking ruling that effectively decriminalised abortion across the country. Prior to this ruling, abortion laws in Mexico varied significantly from state to state, creating an uneven landscape where women's access to safe and legal abortion services depended on where they lived.
The court's decision established that criminalising abortion is unconstitutional and infringes upon a woman's right to make decisions about her own body. This ruling represents a major victory for reproductive rights activists who have long campaigned for women's autonomy and access to safe healthcare options.
The ruling set a significant legal precedent and paved the way for the federal health system to begin providing abortion services and broaden access dramatically. At some point, that might even make Mexico an increasingly important destination for US abortion seekers fleeing more restrictive laws.
But Mexican abortion rights advocates say the ruling's promise of expanding abortion access will not become a reality overnight and could depend on the political and legislative will of the federal government.
Mexico's move toward decriminalisation is in line with global trends toward recognizing abortion as a fundamental human right. It is worth noting that many countries around the world have already embraced this stance, with nations in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia having long-established legal frameworks for safe and legal abortion.
A Regional Perspective
When comparing Mexico's new stance on abortion with other South American countries, a clear disparity emerges. While progress is being made in some nations, others still lag behind in recognizing and respecting women's reproductive rights.
Argentina: In late 2020, Argentina became a trailblazer in South America by legalizing abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. This decision significantly shifted the region's attitudes toward reproductive rights.
Uruguay: Uruguay has had a more progressive stance on abortion, having decriminalised the procedure in 2012, making it one of the few countries in the region with such legislation.
Brazil: In Brazil, abortion remains illegal except in cases of rape, a risk to the mother's life, or if the fetus has anencephaly. Access to safe and legal abortion services is limited, and the issue continues to be debated and advocated.
Chile: Chile decriminalised abortion in limited circumstances (rape, risk to the mother's life, or fetal abnormalities) in 2017, but broader access to abortion remains a subject of ongoing discussion.
El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras: These countries maintain some of the strictest abortion laws globally, with abortion being prohibited under all circumstances, even when the mother's life is at risk.
Mexico's decision to decriminalize abortion reflects a growing recognition of women's rights in the region. It is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists and a step toward ensuring safer healthcare options for women. While significant progress has been made, there is still work to be done across South America to ensure that women have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare and the autonomy to make choices about their own bodies.
Mexico's recent decriminalisation of abortion is a remarkable achievement for women's reproductive rights, setting an example for its neighbours in South America to follow. It is a reminder that progress is possible, and the fight for gender equality and bodily autonomy continues to gain momentum in the region.
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