“There has to be a law regulating this. This doesn’t mean that women freely can have abortions in a massive way,” said Jose Armando Alonso Gonzalez, president of the Juarez Bar and College of Lawyers. “In the state of Chihuahua abortion is still penalized with three months to three years in prison.”
On Tuesday, the Mexican Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Coahuila prosecuting women who had abortions. Arturo Zaldivar, president of the Supreme Court, told reporters the ruling establishes criteria for all judges in Mexico and that any further prosecutions now would be in violation of the law.
Advocates who brought the case to the courts argued that women living in poverty or decided to terminate their pregnancy in the second semester were unfairly persecuted. They also said the law left women no choice but to procure clandestine abortions with unlicensed providers that put their lives at risk.
The Supreme Court ruling took the teeth out of state laws, but did not legalize abortion, Gonzalez said. It is still up to each state how to deal with the issue and this by no means opens the door to the creation of abortion clinics, he said. Doctors and medical providers must still follow existing laws at the risk of losing their licenses.
“I, as a jurist, have to promote legality and compliance with the law. Abortion is still the death of the product of a pregnancy. Women have a right to do with their bodies as they please but must respect the law. In any case, the best thing to do is to prevent a pregnancy,” Gonzalez said.
Juarez women’s rights advocates are hailing the Supreme Court ruling. They are hopeful the left-leaning majority in the Mexican congress will follow up with laws legalizing abortion. And they say women who make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy now have a chance to find a willing, qualified provider.
“Thousands of women are going to stop dying in clandestine abortions. Thousands of doctors and charlatans are no longer going to profit from this situation. Let’s not forget that the ones who die are the most vulnerable women,” said Yadira Cortes, a women’s rights activist with Red Mesa de Mujeres.
Cortes agrees the ruling may cause confusion initially, such as leading people from neighboring Far West Texas and Southern New Mexico to think they can come to Mexico to have an abortion now.
“It’s not like that. There are many myths around abortion, such as that women’s rights advocates promote abortions. No advocate wishes that a woman passes through such a difficult situation,” Cortes said. “We want to give information so that people can make the best decision. If I’m 12 and my grandfather rapes me, am I obligated to have the child of my grandfather? If I’m 40 and I’m raped, I have a right to decide whether I keep the product of that rape.”
Cortes said her group has come across “horrific” cases of women who hurt themselves badly by trying to self-terminate their pregnancies. That includes pulling the fetus out of their bodies with hangers or utilizing abortion pills with no medical supervision.
Whether or not Mexico’s congress will soon legislate on abortion is anyone’s guess. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador earlier this week sidestepped the issue on his morning news conference.
And while the women’s rights movement has made strides in Mexico in the past couple of decades, the Catholic church is still very much against abortion.
“This creates a culture very different than the one the Mexican people are used to. This goes against their roots and their values,” said the Rev. Mario Manriquez, the priest at Sacred Family Church in Juarez. “This sends a message to young people that committing a crime has no consequences. […] They are not legalizing abortion, but they decriminalize it. It’s absurd.”