Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion last year, loosening decades of restrictive laws in the predominately Catholic nation, leading to more permissive laws in several of its states.
The ruling is a stark contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade — the decision that reversed 50 years of precedent and allowed individual states to outlaw or severely curtail abortion care.
Now — because the abortion accessibility landscape that lawmakers had faced in Mexico until recently more closely resembles the terrain in parts of the U.S. — U.S. state legislators have begun to learn how Mexico’s policymakers and women’s health advocates managed to provide safe abortion care to women — and how they won back certain abortion rights.
“Being able to go to Mexico, and visit activists who have been doing the work on the ground for many, many years, who changed the culture, changed what is possible, who really forced lawmakers and health care providers to think differently about abortion as health care, and then to see the ways in which the policies and the legal landscape and the medical landscape have shifted as a result was incredibly powerful,” said Julie Gonzales, a Democratic Colorado state senator who traveled throughout Mexico with five other state legislators earlier this summer.
Mexico’s changed the landscape on abortion
The trip, organized by State Innovation Exchange, a progressive legislative policy group, was designed for state lawmakers to get a better sense of how grassroots and progressive policy efforts could help bring about meaningful change to abortion rights.
Mexico’s trajectory offered an interesting case study, organizers said.
When the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in September 2021 to decriminalize abortion, experts said the decision would, over time, open the door to legalizing abortion throughout the heavily Catholic country.
As of May, nine of Mexico’s 32 states had put in place laws or measures legalizing the right to receive abortion care during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, though laws criminalizing abortion are still on the books in many of the nation’s other states.
Unlike in the U.S., Mexican law had, before the ruling, subjected both patients and abortion providers to criminal penalties, including prison time. Many abortion rights advocates celebrated the ruling, mostly on the grounds that it would now be unconstitutional to punish abortion as a crime.
It remains unclear, experts said, whether doctors in the largely religiously conservative country have so far been more willing to administer abortion care. The court, in a separate ruling, also imposed limits on conscientious objection as a reason not to provide abortion care at many health care facilities, according to abortion rights advocates. That has, in effect, led to medication abortion becoming the most popular form of care administered.
Abortion advocates and lawmakers credited a decades-long surge of activism in Mexico and Latin America as leading to steady gains for abortion rights. Six months after the initial decision, Mexico’s Supreme Court also ruled that underage girls could receive abortion care without parental consent if they became pregnant as a result of rape.
The lawmakers said they were closely examining that broad effort as they aimed to rebuild a similar one in the U.S., now that there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion.