While the world was cringing at the legal circus unfolding in Texas, Mexico, one of the most prominent Catholic countries in the world has made an astounding comeback.
On Tuesday, September 7, 10 out of the 11 justices of Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a statute in the state of northern Coahuila is unconstitutional. The recently repealed law imposes a 3-year sentence on any woman who goes through an abortion, under any circumstance, even if rape is involved. The remaining judge was absent during the time of voting. The supreme court’s ruling is a new precedent in Mexico’s judicial system and is binding to remaining states that did not legalize abortion.
Women’s rights activists and other concerned organizations were ecstatic with the supreme court’s ruling. Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar calls the verdict a “watershed moment,” especially for women at risk for abuse.
Paula Avila-Guillen, the executive director of Women’s Equality Center, a New York-based women’s rights advocacy group, declares that “abortion has been effectively decriminalized in Mexico.” A 26-year old member of Frente Feminista in Saltillo, Karla Cihuatl, said she’s “very happy that abortion has been decriminalized, and now we want it to be legal.” Both of the women also acknowledged that more things need to be done. Guillen focuses on using the new precedent as a means for women imprisoned for abortion to claim their freedom finally.
The journey that leads to this achievement took years in the making. The overwhelming decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court came after years of consistent advocacy campaigns by thousands of women in Mexico. Promoting women’s rights and gender equity started from the state government and slowly moved to the federal level. Denise Dresser, a political analyst, claims that “the Mexican supreme court understood the climate had changed,” referring to the slow but steady process that helped usher in the court’s decision.
Not everyone is happy with the supreme court’s decision. With more than 100 million Catholics and more than a quarter of Mexicans identifying as Catholic, the Catholic Church preemptively attacked the court’s vote, reminding judges not to “create a huge setback just to please an ideology in vogue, or due to peer pressure.” The National Action Party, an extremely conservative political party, condemns the court’s decision stating that they will defend “life from the moment of conception until natural death.”
The victory has been secured. Mexico’s current law allows any ruling from a majority vote by the supreme court to supplant any state law that directly opposes the ruling. Former supreme court judge Diego Valades states that the new precedent will “outline a route, a criteria,” that the other states will use to update their laws.
CORRECTION: Sentence 2 of Paragraph 2; The recently repealed law imposes a 3-year sentence on any woman who goes through an abortion, under any circumstance, even if rape is not involved. The last clause should read as even if rape is involved. The point of contention is that the law from Coahuila was absolute, abortion even for rape victims was not allowed.