Mexico’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that state laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights, in a landmark decision that extends the trend of widening abortion access in Latin America. The court ordered that abortion be removed from the federal penal code, and a reproductive rights group said the decision would require the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to offer abortion to anyone who requests it.
The ruling came two years after the court ruled that abortion was not a crime in the northern state of Coahuila, which set off a slow state-by-state process of decriminalizing the procedure. So far, 12 of Mexico’s 31 states have decriminalized abortion. The court’s decision marked a major victory for the GIRE, a reproductive rights organization 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 to celebrate, posting green heart emojis, in reference to Latin America’s burgeoning feminist movement. “Today is a day of victory and justice for Mexican women!” Mexico’s National Institute for Women wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. The government organization noted it was a “big step” towards gender equality.
The court said on X that “the legal system that criminalized abortion” in Mexican federal law was unconstitutional because it “violates the human rights of women and people with the ability to gestate.” The 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 organizing have brought major advances for pro-choice activists. Argentina legalized the procedure in 2020 and Colombia, a highly conservative country, followed suit two years later. The changes in Latin America stand in sharp contrast to increasing restrictions on abortion in parts of the United States. Some American women were already seeking help from Mexican abortion rights activists to obtain pills used to end pregnancies.
However, Wednesday’s ruling will not automatically make decriminalization 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 decriminalize 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.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s ruling will protect both women seeking abortions and healthcare workers involved in providing abortion care from criminal charges. Anyone with a uterus 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 able to be punished for abortion,” GIRE said in a statement.