Historic ruling decriminalizes abortion in Mexico

The Green Wave has arrived in Mexico and it won’t be slowing down anytime soon. 

The Green Wave — a transnational movement for legal and safe abortions that started in Argentina — made its way to the Mexican Supreme Court. On Sept. 7, it was unanimously declared by the court that the criminalization and punitive treatment of abortions are unconstitutional. 

As stated by Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar: “Today is a historic day for the rights of all Mexican women.” 

Zaldivar’s statement, on the historic nature of the ruling, underscores how important the decision is in Mexico. According to Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE – Information Group on Reproductive Choice), unsafe abortions are the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality in Mexico. This decision paves the way for women’s rights, not only in Mexico, but in the rest of Latin America as well.

The movement is the result of efforts from activists across the region. The push for this ruling by women’s rights activists in Mexico was inspired by Argentinian women who led the way for the legalization of abortion in Argentina last December. These activists used green bandanas and other green items of clothing to signify their support for safe and legal abortions. During Mexico’s protests in favor of the legalization of abortion, demonstrates were filled with people dressed in green attire. 

Yet, it’s important to note that the movements seen in Mexico and Argentina are not just rooted in reproductive rights, but also stem from the region’s ongoing battle for women’s rights. In 2017 a Small Arms Survey reported that out of the top 25 countries for femicide across the world, Latin America is home to 14 of those countries. Still, in 2021, femicide rates continue to be high in Latin America. These high rates can be attributed to weak femicide and women’s rights laws that often hold little to no power behind them. 

The current ruling in Mexico and other critical decisions regarding reproductive rights in Latin America, therefore, make all the difference in strengthening and implementing laws that protect the rights of women. 

But now that Mexico’s Supreme Court made its decision, many wonder: What’s next? 

While it is now unconstitutional to punish and criminalize women for abortions, the court’s ruling needs to be applied and practiced across all of Mexico’s 32 states. Activists are now focusing on different legal battles that will require all states to implement the ruling. While the decision did come from the Supreme Court, the decision only directly applies to the state Coahuila

Before Coahuila, there were just four Mexican states that permitted legalized abortions. Now, efforts are focused on the other 27 states. However, there is still immense power in the Supreme Court decision. Though legalization is not standard across all of Mexico, the court ruled that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, setting an important precedent across the country. 

Since the decision was made earlier this month, there still remains a large population of women who are currently imprisoned for abortion-related matters. The Mexican government reported that in the few couple of months of 2021, 432 investigations were opened up in cases for then-illegal abortions. GIRE reports that between January 2010 and January 2021, 172 people were imprisoned for having or assisting with abortions. In total, 3,500 people were accused of a crime. 

What does the new ruling mean for all those currently under investigation or in prison? As of now, there’s no clear answer; but justice for those in prison remains one of the main concerns among activists at the moment. 

Ultimately, however, while activists still believe Mexico has a lot of progress to be made, the decision still marks a watershed moment for the country.

And the ruling comes at a critical time for the country’s northern neighbor. In the United States, the Texas Heartbeat Act — which nearly eliminates the right to abortion articulated in the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade — seemed to mark a step backward for reproductive rights. 

But for Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest Catholic country, the new ruling comes as a critical point of progress.

Recommended Readings

  • “Mexico decriminalises abortion in landmark ruling” — BBC
  • “Mexico’s Supreme Court Has Voted To Decriminalize Abortion” — NPR
  • “Feeling free”: Women criminalized by Mexico’s abortion bans celebrate ruling” — Reuters


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