Will Mexico have to wait a half-century for legal abortion to be overturned?

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Will Mexico have to wait — as the United States did — a half-century to overturn its high court’s rulings on legal abortion?

The recent landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the United States, has inspired all of Latin America in its fight to defend the lives of unborn babies.

However, the continuous rulings that legitimize abortion by higher courts in Mexico, including the country’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN), present significant challenges for the pro-life cause in Mexico.

Beginning in September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings upholding abortion and undermining conscientious objection rights by health care professionals.

The SCJN determined that sections of the Coahuila state penal code that criminalized abortion as well as the protection of life from conception in the Sinaloa state constitution were unconstitutional.

In addition, the court invalidated an article in the country’s General Health Law that protected conscientious objection by health care workers and ordered Congress to write and pass a new, more restrictive one to the court’s liking.

Among other rulings in favor of abortion, on May 24 the SJCN upheld Official Mexican Norm 046, which deals with sexual violence and medical care, thus allowing girls as young as 12 — on their word only and without the need to report being raped to the police — to get an abortion without parental consent.

The president of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea, has repeatedly spoken in favor of abortion, and in an article published in September 2021 he said that “for a decade, I have defended time and time again the right to the interruption of pregnancy.”

In addition, eight states have decriminalized abortion on demand up to 12 or 13 weeks: Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Baja California, Sinaloa, Colima, Veracruz, Guerrero, and Baja California Sur. In addition, Mexico CIty, which has a special status in the Mexican federal system, has also legalized abortion in the first trimester.

Given this scenario, what can Mexico expect?

‘Between 30 and 50 years’

Juan Carlos Leal, a well-known politician who advocates for life and family in Mexico, said that “unfortunately, if we don’t see a change in Mexican politics with a pro-life and pro-family candidacy for the presidency, it will take between 30 and 50 years [to overturn abortion law], since there would have to be changes in Supreme Court justices.”

The former state representative and president of CREEMOS (We Believe), Nuevo León, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, that “the outlook for 2024 is very complicated.”

“I don’t see a public figure who could run as a candidate for the presidency, as a pro-life and pro-family politician, so yes, we may have to wait between 30 and 50 years to reverse the issue of decriminalizing abortion by the Supreme Court of Justice,” he said.

The SJCN consists of 11 justices who are elected for 15-year terms. The candidates are nominated by the country’s president and are approved by the Senate.

Four of the current Supreme Court justices were nominated by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Two others were nominated by his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, and five by former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.

In June 2024, a new president of Mexico will be elected and on Dec. 1, 2024, two seats on the Supreme Court of Justice will be vacant — those of Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea and Luis María Aguilar Morales.

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‘We can stop this normalization of abortion’

Pilar Rebollo, director of Steps for Life, an organization that brings together tens of thousands of people every year for the March for Life in Mexico City, pointed out that “with the precedent in the United States, we can stop this normalization of abortion, stop the abuse of powers.”

Rebollo said pro-lifers can work to “influence the next generation of justices. Because today we have some justices who are very convinced of an ideology and an agenda that no longer responds to justice and respect for the Constitution.”

For the director of Steps for Life, since the United States is a “big brother in terms of trends,” the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court could favor the pro-life cause in Mexico.

“We still have time to not let it be normalized, for Mexican society to not become lukewarm,” she said.

However, she acknowledged that “this is a medium-range project, because as we know, Supreme Courts don’t change constantly.”

Which is why, she continued, it’s important “to not just focus on the Court but on all the powers that have influence, and to learn from the United States.”

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‘We must start now and act as soon as possible’

Marcial Padilla, director of the pro-life organization ConParticipación, told ACI Prensa that “the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion is a great sign for Mexico.”

“It confirms that it’s possible to correct the course that a court has taken and recognize the right to life of the child and his or her mother equally,” he stressed.

For Padilla, in Mexico “we can’t take 50 years. We must start now and act as soon as possible.”

“We must look at the path that has been traveled, learn from its lessons, and work along three lines,” he said.

The first of these lines, Padilla said, is “citizen awareness and participation,” because “we have to sensitize society so that it always keeps in mind the urgency of defending motherhood and protecting the child and the mother equally.”

“There must be formation for youth groups, there must be marches, the ongoing presence of the cause in favor of women and life on social networks and in the media must be maintained,” he said.

A second line of action, he continued, is that pro-lifers must “influence decision makers.”

“Society must elect government officials and legislators who take seriously the cause in favor of life and motherhood,” he said, stressing that “when there are officials like that, then judges are appointed who do their work based on science and ethics and that protect the right to life without discrimination.”

A third line of action, Padilla said, is that “we must always promote the dignity of human life, not just before birth.”

“Pro-life groups, in addition to fighting tirelessly so that no woman thinks of abortion, must also address the other problems that exist in society,” he said.

“Human life must be lived with dignity, with health, with education, with food, with united and stable families. This shouldn’t wait,” he said.

“Today is Day One; let’s do what we have to do starting today,” Padilla said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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