“It is the first time that we have the discussion that we deserve,” celebrates Oriana López Uribe, a 37-year-old Mexican, director of the feminist organization Balance, the day after the ruling on the decriminalization of abortion.
Clandestine abortions in Mexico: the numbers and the alternatives
In a ruling considered “historic” by feminist groups, the Supreme Court declared this Tuesday the unconstitutionality of the criminalization of women and pregnant people who decide to abort in the state of Coahuila. Although the decision of the Justice has yet to go through the local Congress and refers to the criminalization of abortion in only one of the 32 states that make up Mexico, it sets a precedent for the other districts of the country.
It was thus that, unanimously, the ministers of the plenary session overturned article 196 of the Coahuila penal code, which imposed from one to three years in prison to the woman who voluntarily performs her abortion or the person who performed the abortion with her consent.
Although Oriana had projected that the votes of the Court magistrates would be favorable since Sunday, the news did not come without surprise. The confirmation that the Court had supported the decriminalization of abortion quickly circulated in WhatsApp groups, which were flooded with stickers feminists. “When we found out about the ruling we wanted to go out to dance, hug each other, fill ourselves with glitter. We couldn’t because of social distancing but we would have loved to do it. We really want to celebrate together,” says Oriana, with a smile, to elDiario .it is.
Keys to understanding the sentence
After the ruling, is abortion legal in Mexico at the national level? No, abortion is still illegal in most states in the country. Not all women and pregnant people have access to legal abortion in Mexico. Only in four of the 32 states is it decriminalized: Mexico City, Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz, where it is allowed to interrupt pregnancy up to 12 weeks of gestation. In any case, the sentence is federal and sets a precedent throughout Mexico. This means that, from Tuesday, any woman in Mexico who faces a trial can appeal this ruling and thus avoid being detained. It establishes a new criterion for all judges in the country in the event that any woman or pregnant person is accused of choosing to have an abortion. “What changes is that now his defense lawyer can use this sentence to defend those people who are criminalized for having an abortion,” explains Oriana.
Why is it considered “historical”? For the first time, the Supreme Court of Mexico put the right to decide at the center of the discussion and mentions the criminalization of women and people with the capacity to bear child. But it is also significant from the symbolic point of view. “The ruling is historical because it was not dictated from a paternalistic place, but emancipatory because it seeks to recognize us as women and pregnant people,” explains Oriana. “There is no place within the jurisprudential doctrine of this Constitutional Court a scenario in which women and people with the capacity to carry a child cannot consider the dilemma of continuing or interrupting their pregnancy,” argued Minister Luis María Aguilar, who presented the draft.
Does the state of Coahuila, with this ruling, still retain the legal figure of the “crime of abortion”? Yes, the judgment of the Court can be used to defend pregnant people who want to have an abortion. However, it does not end with the legal figure of the crime of forced abortion that is used in the event that a woman is forced to interrupt her pregnancy. For feminist groups, this point continues to be a risk of potential criminalization.
Did the judges show discrepancies at any point? The ruling has been handed down unanimously. However, the magistrates showed their differences regarding whether they should define or omit a determination on the limiting months of gestation in which the voluntary interruption of pregnancy is allowed. Some have argued that the “right to decide” is not “unlimited.” In addition, the president of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar, has criticized that the project, arguing that it falls short because it does not invalidate all the articles that criminalize abortion under any precept.
Is there a history of this sentence? The Supreme Court had already resolved a constitutional controversy in 2008, when it declared constitutional the decriminalization of abortion in the country’s capital, the then Federal District, until the 12th week of gestation. The plenary session validated the norm issued by the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District.
Are all states required to change their criminal codes? No, states are not required to change their criminal codes. But a message is sent to the local Assemblies: the criminalization of abortion goes against the “right to decide of women and pregnant people,” argue from the Mexican organization Impunidad Cero. “It is the first step to decriminalize, but the penal code is a debate that must take place in local Congresses”, explains Oriana.