8 Sep 2021

Mexico's top court decriminalises abortion in 'watershed moment'

2:38 pm on 8 September 2021

Mexico's Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that penalising abortion is unconstitutional, a major victory for advocates of women's health and human rights, just as parts of the United States enact tougher laws against the practice.

A woman takes part during a protest to demand decriminalization of abortion is State of Mexico. in front of the Justice palace on March 23 2021 Toluca, Mexico.

A protest outside the Justice palace in Toluca, in Mexico, in support of decriminalising abortion on 23 March, 2021. Photo: AFP

The decision in the world's second-biggest Roman Catholic country means that courts can no longer prosecute abortion cases, and follows the historic legalisation of the right in Argentina, which took effect earlier this year.

Arturo Zaldivar, president of the Mexican Supreme Court, hailed the decision as "a watershed moment" for all women, especially the most vulnerable.

The court's ruling stemmed from a 2018 case challenging a criminal law on abortion in Coahuila, a northern Mexican state which borders Texas, which has just tightened its laws.

It also comes as a growing feminist movement has taken to the streets in Mexico to press for change, including calls to end anti-abortion laws on the books in much of the country.

At a demonstration in Coahuila state capital Saltillo, women wearing green bandanas to symbolise the pro-choice movement embraced and shouted "abortion is no longer a crime!"

"We're very happy that abortion has been decriminalised, and now we want it to be legal," said 26-year-old Karla Cihuatl, one of the demonstrators, who belongs to the feminist organisation Frente Feminista in Saltillo.

"This step has broken the stigma a little. But I believe that we still have to change the social aspect."

With some 100 million Catholics, Mexico is the largest predominantly Catholic country after Brazil. The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 29, 2020 Catholic anti-abortion activists pray during a protest outside the Mexican Supreme Court building in Mexico City, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Catholics pray at an anti-abortion protest outside the Supreme Court in Mexico City in JUly 2020. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of mostly poor Mexican women have been prosecuted for abortion, while at least several dozen remain jailed.

Tuesday's vote establishes a mandatory criteria for all judges in the country, making it no longer possible to prosecute any woman who has an abortion without violating the criteria of the court and the constitution, Zaldivar said.

Coahuila's state government issued a statement saying the ruling would have retroactive effects and that anyone woman imprisoned for abortion should be released "immediately."

A number of US states have moved to restrict access to abortion, particularly Texas, which last week enacted a sweeping ban on the procedure after the first six weeks of pregnancy when the US Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The Mexican ruling may lead to US women in states such as Texas deciding to travel south of the border to terminate their pregnancies.

In July, the state of Veracruz became just the fourth of Mexico's 32 regions to decriminalise abortion.

Mexico's leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has carefully avoided taking a stand on the matter, as he did again on Tuesday morning in the run-up to the ruling.

When asked at a news conference for his opinion on abortion, he sidestepped the question, saying it was up to the court.

"Due my presidential office, I can't expose myself to wear and tear, so I have to look after myself, and this is quite a controversial issue," he said.

During his winning 2018 election campaign, he forged an alliance with a small political party founded by Christian conservatives known for their strong opposition to abortion.

- Reuters

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