With an 8 (for) to 3 (against) vote
in Mexico’s Supreme Court, the April 24,
2007 law making abortion legal
in Mexico, under any circumstance during the first twelve weeks
of pregnancy, is now deemed constitutional. On Thursday, August
28, 2008, eight justices agreed that the case of unconstitutionality
brought before the Court by the National Attorney General’s Office
and the National Human Rights Commission against the new law was without
basis. This landmark decision in Mexico means that the abortion
law in Mexico City must be enforced; it also sets a strong legal precedent
(known as jurisprudencia) for movements in other states throughout
the country to adopt the same law. Currently, abortion is legal
in all of Mexico’s states when the pregnancy is caused by rape; states’ penal codes vary in terms of other legal indications,
including when the pregnancy presents a risk to the life or health of
the pregnant woman or in the case of fetal malformation, among others.
Mexico’s Supreme Court has stated
in no uncertain terms that despite the strength of the traditional Catholic
Church and other ultra-right conservative forces, science, secularism,
and human rights are the true basis for deciding whether or not the
abortion law should be upheld. Justice Sergio Salvador Aguirre
Anguiano, who wrote the supporting argument for the case of unconstitutionality, and his
conservative supporters stand corrected; women throughout Mexico
are vindicated with this decision.
Activism has not paused for
a moment. On September 4, members of the Network for Sexual and
Reproductive Rights in Mexico (ddeser, Red por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos
en México) demanded the resignation of José Luis Soberanes, President of the
National Human Rights Commission, citing his incompetence in defending
women’s human rights and his unwillingness to defend the Constitution
and international agreements on reproductive rights, signed or ratified
by the Mexican Congress.
What this could mean in the short,
medium and long term is that unsafe abortion would disappear
from the list of causes of maternal mortality in Mexico; right now,
according to official statistics, unsafe
abortion is the country’s fifth most common reason why women die
The crime here really is that abortion procedures (both "surgical"
and with medications) are among the safest medical interventions that
exist, meaning that not one woman should have to risk her health or
her life because she cannot or does not want to continue with her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court proceedings themselves are worthy of praise and study.
In the spirit of full transparency on this controversial topic, the
Court held a series of public hearings from April 11 to June 27, 2008,
which were broadcast live on their website. This "microsite" can be consulted by anyone in the world
and was constantly updated throughout the processes. Videos of
the public hearings (audiencias) can be consulted, along with
presenters’ notes, notes taken by the Court, press bulletins, and
even a Virtual library with dozens of relevant documents, including
laws and references. During and after the proceedings, citizens
have been encouraged to post their comments about the decision.
Testimonies from such noted activists and professionals,
including Jesus Zamora Pierce Pierce Law Firm), Raffaela Schiavon Ermani
(Ipas Mexico), Marta Lamas (Debate Feminista), Susana Lerner Sigal (Centro
de Estudios Demográficos, Urbanos y Ambientales del Colegio de México),
María del Consuelo Mejía Piñeros (Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir), and Pilar Muriedas Juárez (Foro Nacional de Mujeres y Políticas
de Población), among others provided the rights-based and scientific
evidence needed to substantiate and solidify the Court’s final decision
(the public statements supporting unconstitutionality can be viewed
on the sites for days one, three, and five). Such access to information
and to the proceedings of the Court is unprecedented and, in my opinion,
contributed to the strength of the debate and to the final decision
of the Justices.
Mexican feminists have struggled to
legalize abortion for decades. In 1931, Mexico City approved a
law that "decriminalized" abortion in the case of pregnancy resulting
from rape, from "imprudent" behavior on the part of the woman, and
when the pregnancy presented a risk to the life of the woman.
Since then, the movement has continued
and strengthened over time.
During the last 15 years in Mexico,
especially since the international conferences in Cairo and Beijing
(ICPD, 1994 and the Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995), the demands
of civil society and particularly women increasingly have been incorporated
into public debates, public policy and law. Their strategies have
been creative, collaborative, and based in strong scientific evidence;
their successes come from their never-ending commitment to their causes
and their resolve to contribute to significant and positive social change
for citizens of this country.
The Supreme Court’s decision was
heavily influenced by the work of women’s groups and feminists throughout
the country. Life (vida), safe and voluntary motherhood,
human rights, including reproductive rights, and the freedom and
right to decide "in a free, responsible and informed manner the
number and spacing of children" (Art. 4, Mexican Constitution, added
in 1974) were invoked as support for the Court’s final decision.
These arguments are congruent with contemporary, globalized societies
(rather than the very narrow argument of "privacy" on which Roe
v. Wade is based). Strategies used by feminist organizations and
civil society, as well
as the process and final decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court should
be studied and used as a model for movements toward justice and human
rights throughout the world.
Gracias a las organizaciones listadas
abajo por su trabajo sin descanso, (casi) siempre con sonrisa y siempre
con energía y creatividad; Gracias
a México, por su visión y compromiso a las vidas de los seres humanos.
Afluentes; Católicas por el Derecho
a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Decide); Consorcio para el Diálogo
Parlamentario y la Equidad (Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and
Equity); Decidir (Decide): Coalición de Jóvenes por la Ciudadanía
Sexual (Youth Coalition for Sexual Citizenship); Elige (Choose): Red
de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos (Network of Youth
for Sexual and Reproductive Rights); Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía,
Trabajo y Familia (Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work and Family); Federación
Mexicana de Educación Sexual y Sexología (Femess, Mexican Federation
for Sexual Education and Sexology); Foro de Mujeres y Políticas de
Población DF (Forum on Women and Population Policies); Fundación Mexicana
para la Planeación Familiar (Mexfam, Mexican Family Planning Foundation);
Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación (Analysis and Research
Center); Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE, Information
Group on Reproductive Choice); Incide Social (Social Involvement); Ipas
México; Kinal Antzetik Distrito Federal (Mexico City Kinal Antzetik);
Letra S, Salud, Sexualidad y Sida (Letter S, Health, Sexuality and AIDS);
Red Democracia y Sexualidad (demysex, Democracy and Sexuality Network);
Population Council; Red Nacional Católica de Jóvenes por el Derecho
a Decidir (National Network of Catholic Youth for the Right to Decide);
Red por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos en México (ddeser, Network
for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Mexico); Salud Integral para la
Mujer (SIPAM, Integral Health for Women).
- Laura Villa, Mexico City – Now With More Human Rights!