Social Issues

Mexican activists: Struggle continues 1 year after high-court abortion ruling

By Cristina Sanchez Reyes

Mexico City, Sep 7 (EFE).- Some clear strides have been made in the year since Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that decriminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, but that medical procedure is still not accessible nationwide and more work remains to be done to promote womens’ sexual and reproductive rights, activists told Efe.

The Supreme Court on Sept. 7, 2021, voted to revoke Article 196 of the Penal Code of the northern state of Coahuila, which had made abortion – even in cases of rape – punishable by up to three years behind bars.

That high-court decision set a precedent for impeding the imprisonment of women who intentionally terminate their pregnancies and for extending the legal right to an abortion to all parts of that heavily Catholic country.

But progress has been slow over the past 12 months, Yunuen Castillo Menchaca, a Coahuila-based specialist in gender and human rights, told Efe.

“I’d like to say that there have been lots of changes, that we live in a more open society … that there’s no more of this criminalization of women who make decisions about our own bodies and decide to legally interrupt our pregnancies. But unfortunately that’s not the case,” she lamented.

In 2021 alone, the state legislatures of Veracruz, Hidalgo, Baja California and Colima voted to legalize abortion by request until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Mexico City had already legalized abortion for the same time period in 2007 and Oaxaca in 2019, while this year Sinaloa took that same step in March (until the 13th week of pregnancy) and Guerrero and Baja California Sur followed suit in May and June, respectively.

“(To date), there are still no more than 10 (federal) entities in the country where abortion is decriminalized, meaning there are still other states where colleagues of ours continue to fight so that it’s no longer a crime,” she added.

“Women are still going to prison for making decisions about our bodies, even while there are rapists, stalkers, aggressors who walk free, killers of women who receive absolutely no punishment,” Castillo Menchaca said.

Many women seeking abortions also face different obstacles even in states where the practice is legalized, such as the conscientious objection of doctors and the refusal of pharmacies to sell morning-after pills.

The historic Mexican Supreme Court ruling is being commemorated less than three months after its US counterpart overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had established the constitutional right to an abortion.

Araceli Lopez Nava, director-general of the Marie Stopes Mexico Foundation, slammed the US high court’s June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as a “regression.”

“For us, this decision is very regrettable, (since) for better or worse they’re a role model and were on the cutting edge in terms of rights,” she said.

The legalization of abortion is surrounded by a lot of myths, such as thinking that its availability leads more women to abort, which “isn’t true,” Lopez Nava said.

“Honestly, we haven’t observed (an increase). However, women show up when they need the service, no matter their religion,” she added.

The activist said numerous barriers stand in the way of safe and legal abortion in Mexico.

“The social stigma is very high. Information is lacking. Sexual education is lacking. There’s a lack of understanding about what my sexual and reproductive rights are and what I can demand, even in states (where the practice is) criminalized,” Lopez Nava lamented.

Decriminalization of abortion is only a first step and does not immediately ensure the provision of services, Castillo Menchaca said.

Lopez Nava, for her part, stressed the need for training and raising awareness among health professionals.

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