Mexico’s Supreme Court Votes to Decriminalize Abortion

The ruling sets a precedent for the legalization of abortion nationwide.

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MEXICO CITY — 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 demanding greater rights and protections.

“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 elect to have an abortion, the Supreme Court ruled that any criminal penalization of abortion 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 time or other penalties for women who choose to have the procedure. Activists also plan to push state authorities to free women currently serving time for getting 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, Ms. Ramos said.

The decision opens the door to making Mexico the most populous Latin American country to allow abortion and comes at a moment when Texas and other American states have placed ever-tighter restrictions on the procedure.

Before the court weighed in, the procedure had been legal only in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz, and in Mexico City.

Women across Mexico have in recent years protested en masse in capital cities across the country, demanding not only abortion rights but also an end to the scourge of violence which has made the nation one of the deadliest for women in the world.

“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. It means “no women will be criminalized for making this decision.”

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