Mexico’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that penalising abortion is unconstitutional, just days after parts of the United States enacted tougher laws against the practice.
The decision in the world’s second-biggest Roman Catholic country means that courts can no longer prosecute abortion cases and follows the historic legalisation of the right in Argentina, which took effect earlier this year.
Arturo Zaldivar, president of the Mexican Supreme Court, hailed the decision as “a watershed moment” for all women,
especially the most vulnerable.
The vote by the 10 judges present stemmed from a 2018 case challenging a criminal law on abortion in Coahuila, a northern Mexican state which borders Texas, which has just tightened its laws.
It also comes as a growing feminist movement has taken to the streets in Mexico to press for change, including calls to end anti-abortion laws in much of the country.
At a demonstration in the Coahuila state capital Saltillo, women wearing green bandanas to symbolise the pro-choice movement embraced and shouted “abortion is no longer a crime!”
“We’re very happy that abortion has been decriminalised, and now we want it to be legal,” said 26-year-old Karla Cihuatl, one of the demonstrators, who belongs to the feminist organisation Frente Feminista in Saltillo.
“This step has broken the stigma a little. But I believe that we still have to change the social aspect.”
With some 100 million Catholics, Mexico is the largest predominantly Catholic country after Brazil.
The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures.
Hundreds of mostly poor Mexican women have been prosecuted for abortion, while at least several dozen remain jailed.
Tuesday’s vote establishes a mandatory criteria for all judges in the country, making it no longer possible to prosecute
any woman who has an abortion without violating the criteria of the court and the constitution, Mr Zaldivar said.
Coahuila’s state government issued a statement saying the ruling would have retroactive effects and that any woman
imprisoned for abortion should be released “immediately”.
A number of American states have moved to restrict access to abortion, particularly Texas, which last week enacted a sweeping ban on the procedure after the first six weeks of pregnancy when the US Supreme Court declined to intervene.
The Mexican ruling may lead to women living in states such as Texas deciding to travel south of the border to terminate their pregnancies.