.Mexico’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that making abortion a crime was unconstitutional, setting a precedent for its legalization nationwide in a conservative Catholic country of about 120 million people.
The unanimous ruling from the nation’s top court follows a growing women’s movement in Mexico that has repeatedly taken to the streets of major cities to demand greater rights and protections.
The decision was met with elation by the vast network of feminist activists who have spent years fighting the criminalization of abortion across the nation — and it opens the door to making Mexico the most populous Latin American country to allow the procedure.
“Today is a historic day for the rights of all Mexican women,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar said after the decision was announced. “It is a watershed in the history of the rights of all women, especially the most vulnerable.”
Considering a law in the northern state of Coahuila, which mandates up to three years of jail for women who have an abortion, the Supreme Court ruled that any criminal penalization of the procedure violated Mexico’s Constitution.
The decision does not automatically make abortion legal across Mexico, experts said, but it does set a binding precedent for judges across the country. Reproductive rights advocates said they planned to use the ruling to challenge laws in the vast majority of Mexico’s states that mandate either jail term or other penalties for women who have an abortion.
Activists also plan to push state authorities to free women serving time for having had abortions.
“It’s an enormous step toward legalization in the entire country,” said Rebeca Ramos, the executive director of GIRE, a reproductive rights group. “We are absolutely ready to present legal challenges to the denial of safe and legal abortion” across the country.
Analysts said they expected to see a wave of efforts to compel states to change laws that criminalize abortion. The Supreme Court justices “are setting the tone for all local criminal codes to be reformed,” said Paulina Creuheras González, head of analysis and political risk at Integralia, a Mexico City consulting firm.
The decision follows a number of key wins by supporters of reproductive rights in Mexico, who helped legalize abortion in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz, and in Mexico City. It also comes a moment when Texas and other American states have placed ever-tighter restrictions on the procedure.
Women across Mexico have in recent years protested en masse across the country, demanding not only abortion rights but also an end to the violence against women that has become a national crisis.
Last year, an average of 10 women were killed in Mexico every day, according to figures from the Mexican government, while more than 2,000 have been murdered in the first seven months of 2021. As of July of this year, there were also some 12,000 recorded cases of rape.
In March, hundreds of women stormed the country’s National Palace in Mexico City, attacking the rampart erected around the president’s residence with bats, blowtorches and hammers, demanding an end to gender-based violence.
This year’s protest followed a massive demonstration last year, which brought tens of thousands of women onto the streets, many of them wearing the green handkerchiefs that became a symbol of the abortion rights activists who pushed for the legalization of abortion in Argentina last year.
The day after the protest, women Mexico stayed home from work in a national strike to demand government action.
“This is a re-vindication for the feminist movement,” said Patricia Mercado, a senator with the opposition Citizens’ Movement party and an outspoken supporter of reproductive rights, of the Supreme Court’s ruling. It means “no women will be criminalized for making this decision.”