The court ruled Tuesday against a law in the state of Coahuila, which threatened women who undergo abortions with up to three years prison and a fine.
The law, according to Coahuila Penal Code Article 196, allowed prosecution of both a woman seeking an abortion and the person who “causes her to have an abortion with her consent.”
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“I’m against stigmatizing those who make this decision [to undergo an abortion] which I believe is difficult to begin with, due to moral and social burdens. It shouldn’t be burdened as well by the law. Nobody gets voluntarily pregnant thinking about getting an abortion later,” said Supreme Court Justice Ana Margarita Ríos Farjat, one of only three women among the court’s 11 justices.
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The top court’s decision against such penalization is “a historic step,” Justice Luis Maria Aguilar said.
“Never again will a woman or a person with the capacity to carry a child be criminally prosecuted,” he added. “Today the threat of imprisonment and stigma that weigh on people who freely decide to terminate their pregnancy are banished.”
Elsewhere in Latin America, Argentina’s Senate approved a bill to legalize abortion in December 2020. The Senate voted 38-29 to give millions of women access to legal terminations under the law supported by President Alberto Fernández.
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The vote comes as US states just north of the border move to restrict abortion access, most notably in Texas.
In Mexico’s northern Coahuila state, women who had abortions and the people who aided them could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Ten supreme court judges voted that this law is unconstitutional on September 7, The Washington Post reported. Now, women who are charged after undergoing an abortion can sue the state to have their charges dropped. This is a major win for activists who have been pushing for gender equality and the decriminalization of abortion in Latin America.
“Abortion has been effectively decriminalized in Mexico,” Paula Avila-Guillen, executive director of New York’s Women’s Equality Center, said. “And every woman currently imprisoned in the country for abortion can use this precedent to be freed.”
Currently, the four countries in Latin America Mexico Futbol that offer abortions legally are Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana.
“This will not only have an impact in Mexico; it will set the agenda for the entire Latin American region,” Melissa Ayala, coordinator of litigation for the Mexican feminist organization GIRE, told the Post.
There isn’t any data available on how many Mexican women have been jailed for getting abortions but GIRE found that there were at least 500 trials regarding the matter between 2007 and 2016. Even though it’s not legal throughout all of Mexico, there are still over one million abortions performed under unsafe conditions each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Supreme Court Judge Zaldívar told the New York Times that this ruling is the first step in the right direction regarding abortion rights.
“Now begins a new path of freedom, of clarity, of dignity and respect for all pregnant people, but above all, for women,” he said. “Today is one more step in the historic fight for their equality, for their dignity and for the full exercise of their rights.”