Mexico supreme court decriminalises abortion across country

Ruling will protect women seeking abortions and healthcare workers involved in providing abortion care from criminal charges

Mexico’s supreme court has unanimously ruled 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.

Wednesday’s ruling came two years after the court ordered the northern state of Coahuila to remove sanctions for abortion from its criminal code, a decision which prompted a tortuous state-by-state process of legal battles. So far 12 of the 31 states in Mexico have decriminalised the procedure.

The court’s decision marked a major victory for the GIRE, a reproductive rights organisation based in Mexico City, which brought the test case against the Mexican state as part of a years-long campaign for reform.

Mexican women took to social media on Wednesday to celebrate, posting green heart emojis, in a reference to Latin America’s burgeoning feminist movement.


“It feels like a dream. Like I’m the happiest person alive right now. If you don’t have the ability to give birth, you can’t tell me whether you think it’s right or wrong,” said Andrea Hernández, a feminist activist in Mexico City.

But the ruling will not automatically make decriminalisation the law of the land. Mexico’s two congressional chambers will now need to come together to pass an accompanying law, eliminating abortion from the country’s penal code.

This process could be fast, or it could take years, as happened with the court’s ruling to decriminalise marijuana in 2018, which was not officially ratified by congress until 2021, leaving the possession and recreational consumption of the herb in a legal grey area for three years.

However, Wednesday’s ruling will protect both women seeking abortions and healthcare workers involved in providing abortion care from criminal charges. Women should also now be able to access abortions in federal health facilities across the country.

“No woman or pregnant person, nor any health worker, will be punished for abortion,” GIRE said in a statement.

Wednesday’s decision is the latest victory for women’s rights activists across Latin America, a region where the Catholic church remains a powerful influence, and where abortion is restricted or banned in many countries.

Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname all have a complete ban on abortion. But decades of organising have brought major advances for pro-choice activists. Argentina legalised the procedure in 2020 and Colombia, a highly conservative country, followed suit two years later.

The Mexican ruling also represents a further separation between Mexico and its northern neighbour, the United States, where the supreme court voted last year to allow specific states to ban abortion and criminalise both women who seek to terminate pregnancies – even if the foetus is not viable – and medical professionals providing abortions.

Fifteen American states quickly passed laws banning abortions as early as at six weeks of gestation, when many women are not yet aware they are pregnant. In Texas, residents are now even offered cash bonuses should they turn a neighbour in to authorities for the crime of having an abortion.

Last year’s US ruling led to the development of a network of “Janes” who buy abortion pills over the counter in Mexico, and ship them to women and girls in need in the United States.

It also prompted a rise in abortion-related travel, both to other US states where the procedure is still legal, and to Mexico. Wednesday’s Mexican ruling may entice more women from the American South to travel to Mexico for healthcare.

The court decision also marks an important milestone for Mexican feminists, who continue to protest the country’s catastrophic rates of femicide, sexual assault and domestic violence. – Guardian