Crime & Justice

Mexican high court ends threat of prison for abortion

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Sep 7 (EFE).- Mexico’s Supreme Court (SJCN) on Tuesday declared criminalizing abortion to be unconstitutional, setting an historic precedent that prevents women obtaining abortions and medical personnel helping them with their consent from being jailed.

“Never again will a woman … be criminally judged. Today, the threat of prison and the stigma weighing on people who freely decide to interrupt their pregnancies has been banished,” said Supreme Court Justice Luis Maria Aguilar, the author of the move, said.

The Supreme Court justices unanimously invalidated Article 196 of the Coahuila Penal Code, whereby in the northern border state a three-year prison sentence could be handed down to women found guilty of voluntarily have an “abortion or the person who performs the abortion with consent.”

“The basis of the criminal law to punish those who voluntarily interrupt their pregnancies is … not available to the legislator, since human rights are involved,” said SCJN Minister Margarita Rios-Farjat.

She pointed out that “rather than stigmatizing those who make this decision” the fact is that in Mexico, which is a heavily Roman Catholic country, between 750,000 and 1 million clandestine abortions are performed each year.

Abortion, criminalization of which is decided on the state level, has only been decriminalized in four of the country’s 32 states: Mexico City, Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz.

Today’s ruling, stemming from a challenge to the Coahuila Penal Code in 2017, only invalidates the law in Coahuila, but it establishes an “obligatory criterion” for all judges, said SCJN President Arturo Zaldivar.

“Starting now it will not be allowed, without violating the ruling of the Court and the Constitution, to bring any woman who has an abortion to trial … Starting now, there is a new path to freedom,” he said.

Although the high court has already ruled on abortion in other instances, Tuesday’s ruling is “fundamental” because for the first time it deals with the crime, Selma Maxinez, an attorney with the Feminist Circle of Legal Analysis, told EFE.

“We’re experiencing an historic success. This is going to be a very important judicial precedent for the entire Mexican justice system, taking a further step in this very difficult context we have, regarding respect for the rights of women,” she said.

In addition, she emphasized the arguments that the SCJN magistrates relied on in issuing their ruling, noting that they agreed on defending “the right to decide,” a concept that the high court dealt with for the first time.

“Punishing women for deciding regarding their bodies to interrupt pregnancy is gender violence and this is discriminatory against women,” Maxinez said.

In addition, women and reproductive rights organizations, starting now, will be able to take advantage of the precedent to fight legally against the criminalization of abortion … in other state legal codes,” Isabel Anayanssi Orizaga, a member of Mexicans Resisting from Abroad, said.

“This has created a tidal (wave) or a domino effect, where eventually all the states that don’t allow abortion or who still punish it” will get to the point where they declare punishing abortion to be unconstitutional, she said.

The Supreme Court, Orizaga added, is also “sending a message to legislatures to fulfill their obligations in terms of human rights and that is very symbolic for the sexual and reproductive rights of women…”

Meanwhile, outside the Supreme Court, anti-abortion organizations protested against the ruling.

“They are the representatives of foreign interests, economic and powerful interests. They want control of the population, manipulation. This is not legal interruption of pregnancy, it’s not interruption, it’s killing,” said Leticia Gonzalez-Luna, the president of Vox Publica A.C.

Amid the debate, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to issue a statement on the matter, saying that “I cannot, from the presidency, expose myself to erosion, and so I have to be careful. And this matter is rather controversial.”

The president spoke at his regular morning press conference after months ago proposing “a public consultation” on the issue of the criminalization of abortion.

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