Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a federal law criminalizing abortion, reaffirming an earlier ruling that criminal penalties for abortion were unconstitutional and allowing the federal healthcare system to provide services.
Mexico’s highest court, which consists of 11 justices, declared that criminal penalties for abortion were unconstitutional in 2021, but the ruling only applied to the northern state of Coahuila, where that case originated.
Wednesday’s ruling will increase abortion access throughout Mexico, marking a major victory for abortion rights advocates in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
It’s also the latest in a wave of reproductive rights advancements across Latin America in recent years. In the United States, meanwhile, the Supreme Court struck down the national right to an abortion in 2022 and nearly half of the 50 states have restricted access dramatically.
“We wouldn’t have this ruling if we didn’t have the Coahuila one two years ago, but I would say that the one today has more reach, definitely in terms of access to abortion,” said Isabel Fulda, deputy director of the Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE), the advocacy group that brought the case.
The court sided with GIRE in a challenge to the federal penal code and declared that the section of the national law that criminalized abortion could no longer take effect.
In a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, the court said it found the abortion section of the federal penal code unconstitutional and that it violated the rights of those who can have children.
The ruling opens the door for the federal healthcare system to start providing abortions, which could become increasingly important as Mexico mulls centralizing healthcare services, abortion rights advocates say.
A representative for the health ministry, which oversees federal health services, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Since the court’s decriminalization ruling in 2021, Mexico’s 32 states have been slow to repeal their penal codes accordingly.
Mexico City was the first Mexican jurisdiction to decriminalize abortion 15 years ago. Last week, the central state of Aguascalientes became the 12th state to drop criminal penalties. Judges in states that still criminalize abortion will have to take account of the top court’s ruling.
After decades of work by activists across the region, the trend picked up speed in Argentina, which in 2020 legalized the procedure. In 2022, Colombia, a highly conservative country, did the same.
In the U.S., abortion is banned throughout pregnancy — with limited exceptions — in 15 states. Bans in two more states forbid abortion after cardiac activity can be detected, generally around six weeks into pregnancy and often before women know they are pregnant. Judges have put enforcement of restrictions on hold in at least four additional states.
Meanwhile, states with liberal governments have taken steps to try to protect abortion access.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)