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Mexico Decriminalizes Abortion in Major Step Forward for Reproductive Rights in Latin America

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In a unanimous decision, Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling Wednesday decriminalizing abortion on the federal level. While laws banning the procedure are still in place in a majority of Mexican states, people in those states can now receive abortions at federal medical facilities run the country’s public health system, and states will be barred from penalizing those patients and providers. The ruling is part of a wave of reproductive rights wins in the region, as Mexico now joins Argentina and Colombia in decriminalizing or legalizing abortion since 2020. “Latin America is actually leading the conversation on the protection of reproductive rights,” says our guest Cristina Rosero, who worked on the lawsuit that decriminalized abortion in Colombia last year. Meanwhile, Mexico is on track to elect its first woman president, as its two major political parties have both named women candidates for next year’s presidential election. In the face of continued political violence against women in the country, the representation of women in its highest office is “definitely a step forward for our political rights here in Mexico,” says Rebeca Ramos, executive director of the Mexico City-based reproductive rights nonprofit GIRE.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Mexico, where the country’s Supreme Court has issued a historic ruling that decriminalizes abortion at the federal level. In a unanimous decision Wednesday, the court stripped federal criminal penalties related to abortions. At a celebration after the ruling, student Marlene Moran welcomed the change.

MARLENE MORAN: [translated] Mexico is an incredibly misogynistic country that still has deeply rooted traditional ideals. Abortion being legal and having a legal context that supports our decisions represents a big change. I hope we will be able to see a change in mentality in the population, so they stop harassing pregnant people who decide to stop their pregnancies.

AMY GOODMAN: Wednesday’s ruling will not make abortions accessible throughout Mexico, because laws banning the procedure are still in place in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states. Pro-choice activists will now work to roll back those restrictions.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Mexico City, Rebeca Ramos is with us. She’s executive director of the reproductive rights group GIRE. And Cristina Rosero is a senior legal adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights in Bogotá, Colombia, where the center was part of the lawsuit that resulted in the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia last February.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rebeca Ramos, let’s begin with you in Mexico City. Talk about the significance of what just took place in Mexico.

REBECA RAMOS: Good morning, Amy. And good morning, Cristina. It’s great to see you. And thank you for having me.

And we’re thrilled. This is the first time that the Supreme Court decided on abortion, and it has an impact at the national level. So, right now we can avoid very important obstacles to provide services for the federal hospitals in the whole country.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Cristina, if you can talk about the lawsuit that your group has been involved with that has led to this, whether in Colombia or right now in Mexico?

CRISTINA ROSERO: [Inaudible] of Causa Justa, who was the one who brought this issue to the light, especially because in Colombia we had three exceptions before, since 2006, but it was clear for us that it was not enough, because women and girls, especially those who face multiple inequalities, wasn’t able to access abortion in reality. There were a lot of obstacles. There was criminalization, especially for young women who didn’t have access to information or for the healthcare system. So, basically, for us, it was clear that the elimination of the crime of abortion was extremely important to eliminate most of the barriers that women and pregnant people face when accessing abortion.

In the case of Colombia, we managed to get from the Constitutional Court the decriminalization of 24 weeks. And after that, we can still apply the three exceptions that we had already implemented in 2006. This is why we are definitely celebrating this ruling in Mexico, because it shows a trend in our region in which we are understanding the importance of not regulating abortion through the penal code or the criminal law, and, in a better way, regulating it as an issue of public health and as an issue of human rights. And this is an extremely good step that builds [inaudible] in this precedent on Colombia. So, here in Colombia, we’re definitely celebrating with our sisters in Mexico for this achievement.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Rebeca Ramos, if you can explain how it works in Mexico, access to abortion, still considered unlawful in two-thirds of Mexican states, but people in those states can still get abortions if they go to federal clinics? Explain how accessible those are. What’s the difference between the local clinic and the federal clinic?

REBECA RAMOS: Yes, of course. Well, here in Mexico, we are a federal state, as the United States, but the thing is that in terms of the regulation of abortion, we have the criminal topic that is at the local state, and in case of the public services of health, we have two levels, the federal and the state level. And at the state level, we have already 12 states that have been decriminalized abortion, whether at the parliament or for judicial decisions. There is two, Coahuila and Aguascalientes. But also the federal hospitals bring services to the population, and they cover almost 70% of people in the country. But before this Wednesday decisions, we have at the federal level the crime of abortion, the absolute criminalization of abortion. So, that made impossible to the federal services of health to provide the services. That is why yesterday — on Wednesday, sorry, we celebrate so much this decision for the Supreme Court, because with this decision, the federal services have to provide abortion services.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there’s something very interesting happening also between the United States and Mexico. As women win this battle over decriminalization, though you have much further to go in all of these states, in the United States, reproductive rights are being severely curtailed. And now, looking at a piece by Jonathan Bruce on ABC13, “New ordinances would ban driving through cities and counties en route to abortion care.” And what this means on the border between Texas and Mexico, that anti-abortion groups in Texas are getting more aggressive for trying to stop women from getting the procedure out of state, and maybe even in Mexico, that if they criminalize women making their way through a county or a city, that makes it illegal to even travel to somewhere like Mexico to get an abortion. I mean, the focus in the United States is always people trying to get into the United States. The question now is people, Cristina Rosero, trying to leave the United States to get an abortion in Mexico.

CRISTINA ROSERO: Yes, sadly, all the roadblocks that are going on in the U.S. are unacceptable, and we definitely are really concerned about all the impacts that the decision of Dobbs had since last year. As the Center for Reproductive Rights, we know that more than 14 states have banned abortion in different ways or creating limits to the access to this service. And the most concerning thing is that the most affected with this type of bans are women who are facing multiple ways of discrimination, for example, migrant women or women who face poverty, because they don’t have access to the healthcare system. In this sense, we definitely are concerned for all the roadblocks.

It shows how right now Latin America is actually leading the conversation on the protection of reproductive rights. And, of course, this milestone in Mexico keeps building on that. We think it’s unacceptable that women in the U.S. are facing this type of obstacles, and we definitely call for a change in this type of protections, because it is important for them to access to abortion. We know from the evidence that banning abortion is not going to avoid that the abortions occur. Abortion is going to be a reality anyway. The thing is that banning abortion, it just creates risks to women and pregnant people who need access to abortion, because they’re going to go for procedures that probably could be unsafe. So, it is important to legalize and decriminalize abortion, because this is the only way to stop mortality regarding unsafe procedures, but also because it is an important recognition of the autonomy of women and people who can get pregnant and their life projects.

So, definitely, I think, in Latin America right now, there’s a really important conversation, because countries that are a reference for the entire region, such as Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, are making changes, going through a recognition of that autonomy. And we will love that in the states. We can have better regulations that don’t ban especially the women who face more inequalities, who have the more difficult conditions to access to the healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Rebeca Ramos, your group, GIRE, your reproductive rights group in Mexico, is behind the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision. Of course, in the United States, it’s the other way. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. So I’m wondering if you can talk about what led to this legal path that now has decriminalized abortion in Mexico, and what advice you have for people in the United States?

REBECA RAMOS: Well, first of all, we, in GIRE, we have been working on the legal path for 30 years. We have been putting on track some legal strategies, not also at the judiciary branch, but also with the congresses and also with the executive branch. But the work we have done with the Supreme Court is since 2000, when we started to have some resolutions, not so good as the Wednesday resolution, but that has been very important to work with the justices, but not only with the justice of the Supreme Court in Mexico, but also with the staff and the people who are actually writing the drafts and the resolutions. So, that is part of our work.

And I wouldn’t say that I’m going to give an advice to the U.S. organizations, but I can share with them that we, in Mexico, we have worked at the different branches, as I said, in terms of the judiciary branch, but also the executive and the legislative branch, but also — and I think that it is something that we share with the United States — is the importance to work at the state level, not only at the federal level, and most of all in a situation that nowadays in the States with this Supreme Court that is very conservative. So I think that in the states, of course, there are more conservative congresses than others. But I think that it has been very interesting how in Mexico has work, the job and the technical advice with those — with the state level of authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to ask you about the political landscape now in Mexico, Rebeca. I mean, you have the two presidential contenders. The top contenders are both women, which means, in 2024, you will have a woman president, most likely, and abortion is decriminalized. The significance of this, and how Mexico came to this point?

REBECA RAMOS: I think that what is happening right now in the political scape is it’s really important, most of all, in terms of representation and also on political participation of women. It’s the first time that a woman would be a president in our country. Just before, there has been some women candidates for the president, but none of them had a real chance to become a president. So I think that it is a great time in terms of political participation. But it is also true that in a state level and a municipal level, they still have a lot of violence, political violence, against women. I think that in terms of representation and visibility, what is happening right now with the two women candidates for the president is, undoubtedly, a step forward for our political rights here in Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: Just naming those two women, the former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is also a climate scientist — he’s with AMLO’s party, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the current president — and the opposition candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez.

I want to thank you both for being with us. This has been a fascinating discussion, and we’ll continue to follow reproductive rights developments throughout Latin America. Rebeca Ramos, executive director of the reproductive rights group GIRE, speaking to us from Mexico City, and Cristina Rosero, senior legal adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in Bogotá, Colombia.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to the dire conditions inside the Fulton County Jail, where Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants were recently booked. Ten prisoners have now died in the jail’s custody this year — the latest, last Sunday. Stay with us.

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