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David Agren - OSV NewsSeptember 07, 2023
A woman holds a cross as she takes part in a March for Life against abortion in Mexico City May 7, 2022. Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned a state-level abortion ban Aug. 30, 2023, a decision observers say could hasten the removal of restrictions on the procedure nationwide. (OSV News photo/Toya Sarno Jordan)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) -- Mexico’s Supreme Court has removed abortion restrictions on a national level -- a decision expanding access to abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy across the country.

The high court granted an injunction Sept. 6 requiring federally operated hospitals and health facilities to provide abortion services. The decision also scrapped criminal penalties for physicians and health professionals performing abortions.

One of the litigants, the Information Group on Reproductive Choice (known by its Spanish acronym GIRE), called the unanimous court decision “a historic milestone,” as more than 70% percent of Mexican women have access to Mexico’s federal health system. That health system includes the Mexican Social Security Institute -- the largest in Latin America -- which covers salaried workers, along with systems for public employees and the poor.

Pro-life groups decried the decision. “It is an attack on the lives of the most defenseless, innocent and vulnerable,” The National Front for the Family said via X, previously known as Twitter, calling the decision “supreme injustice.”

The decision followed an Aug. 30 ruling from the Supreme Court, overturning a law banning abortions in the western state of Aguascalientes and instructing the local congress to revise its legislation. The panel of justices also ordered the state government to guarantee abortion access in its hospitals.

“The court’s argumentation sets a binding precedent for all local and federal judges, who will have to resolve any similar matters based on the court’s decision, which was approved by four votes (out of five),” GIRE said in a statement Aug. 30.

"It was Mexico's Roe v. Wade," Luis Martínez, Human Life International's representative at the Organization of American States, told OSV News.

"This achievement brings us closer to the decriminalization of abortion throughout the country,” the statement said.

GIRE Director Rebeca Ramos told OSV News, "We are presenting injunctions in other states where (abortion) is criminalized. So we're now expecting that they're resolved in accordance with what the court decided." She described the expected resolution of future cases as a "domino effect."

The decision continued the Mexican high court's trend of striking down restrictions on abortion. It followed a 2021 decision, which decriminalized abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in the northern state of Coahuila and established jurisprudence for future cases.

"It was Mexico's Roe v. Wade," Luis Martínez, Human Life International's representative at the Organization of American States, told OSV News.

"The Supreme Court established general criteria of unconstitutionality and with (that) in any state of the republic, even if the constitution was pro-life, abortions could be done, but after (the woman) filed and won an amparo," Martínez said. An "amparo," he explained, is a Mexican legal concept comparable to an injunction, but usually for individuals, not groups.

Martínez continued: "Normally, the Supreme Court has shaped abortion policy through rulings on the constitutionality of the laws regulating abortion or jurisprudence. In Aguascalientes, it was through an amparo."

"(It is) imperative that the constitutional courts break the cycle of discrimination and take the necessary measures to repair the damage caused that society and the justice system itself could cause or has caused..."

The Aguascalientes decision meant 12 of Mexico's 32 states have decriminalized abortion since Mexico City approved the first law doing so in 2007.

"This first bench (panel of justices) cannot be indifferent to the situation in which women and pregnant persons in Aguascalientes are and have been subjected to in an unjust manner," Justice Juan Luis González Alcántara Carrancá, author of the decision, said in his ruling.

"(It is) imperative that the constitutional courts break the cycle of discrimination and take the necessary measures to repair the damage caused that society and the justice system itself could cause or has caused, ensuring that the causes that originated such damage are not perpetuated," the justice said.

Martínez said the strategy of many pro-life groups to influence policy on the state level is likely to prove ineffective as the supreme court quickly assumes cases -- and rules against local laws.

"I see a very complicated situation here in Mexico," Martínez said. "The only way to reverse the situation would be explicitly putting the right to life from conception in the constitution."

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