MEXICO CITY When the Supreme Court in Mexico issued a landmark ruling Tuesday declaring abortion not a crime, activists across the country celebrated. On Wednesday, they returned to work, taking the long and arduous process of ensuring that legal change is enforced throughout Mexico.
Among their top priorities is to help women most in need: those facing criminal penalties, often after being reported to authorities for trying to induce an abortion themselves in dangerous conditions.
A woman who decides to have an abortion is already vulnerable, and then we also have to face the horrible situation believing we will face punishment, said Yetlanezi Pech, who was rushed to hospital, bleeding after an attempt of abortion, just to have an emergency doctor denies her help and hands her over to the authorities.
I felt so scared, I felt so insecure, I felt really bad, she said. And I also felt alone.
Ms. Pech is among thousands of women who have been investigated for illegal abortion in recent years. In the first seven months of this year alone, 432 investigations were opened across Mexico into cases of illegal abortion, according to the Mexican government.
The ruling Tuesday set a legal precedent for the nation and stands in stark contrast to the trend in the United States, where Texas and other states have recently moved to limit abortion. The court ruling also raised the prospect of Mexico eventually becoming a destination for American women seeking to terminate their pregnancies, lawyers said, though that would require the removal of many barriers that make abortion difficult to obtain for the most part. large of the country.
Tuesday’s decision applies only to the border state of Coahuila, and its implementation in practice nationwide requires legal challenges in each of the 28 states in Mexico that still criminalize the procedure, or a change in law by state legislatures. The judges did not specify how long a woman can legally have an abortion during pregnancy, which means that these conditions are likely to be set at the state level.
A group of abortion rights groups in Mexico, GIRE, said it would postpone abortion to legal in Coahuila for 12 weeks after conception within a minimum time limit set in the law that made abortion legal in Mexico City and i which had previously been certified by the Supreme Court.
If that were the case, Coahuila would have more permitted abortion rules than neighboring Texas, where the state legislature recently enacted a law banning most abortions after about six weeks. Over time, women from Texas could potentially cross the border to have an abortion, but for now, there will not be enough infrastructure to meet the need, activists said.
There is more to be done before women and men who may become pregnant in Texas are able to receive service in Coahuila, said Melissa Ayala Garca, GIRE litigation coordinator. We still have a long way to go to ensure that the service is provided.
Texas law prohibits abortions once cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo. There is no heart at this stage of development, only electrical activity in the developing cells that begins at about six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant.
Activists in Mexico have already begun working on a strategy to force states to comply with court rulings, though their struggle to make abortion legal and safe across the country could be a long one. Only Mexico City, and three other states, allowed abortions on demand before Tuesday’s decision.
We are already organized and ready to take advantage of the opportunity the court offers the new ruling, said Arely Torres Miranda, a reproductive rights lawyer in the state of San Luis Potos. What we need to do is get them to change the law.
This plan is likely to encounter resistance. The Mexican Conservative Party PAN, one of the main opposition parties, has fought efforts to legalize the procedure.
The party clearly has both in its platform and in its principles the right to life since conception, said Damin Zepeda Vidales, a PAN senator and former party leader.
Mr Zepeda, who said he would personally oppose legalization efforts in the Senate, added that the party was waiting for the Supreme Court to announce its decision following Tuesday’s decision to determine its national strategy.
Since Mexico City legalized abortion in 2007, a network of activists based there has worked to provide women seeking abortion with a safe route, either by transporting them to the capital or by providing misoprostol, a drug commonly used for induced abortion.
But many women are too afraid to reach out to those groups and choose to have clandestine abortions.
We have seen horrible cases when they do this with hangers, where they hit the belly, said Ms. Torres Miranda. They put their lives in danger.
When those methods go wrong or lead to excessive bleeding, women often go to hospitals. But federal law requires medical providers to notify authorities when a patient presents with signs of involvement in criminal activities such as abortion.
Yesterday’s decision will also allow us, when we modify the law, to remove the obligation for the health sector to report when they detect an abortion, said Ms. Torres Miranda.
In general, women who are more marginalized who are poor and live in rural areas are the ones facing criminal penalties for having an abortion, Ms. Torres Miranda said.
It was not clear how many women in total are currently facing prosecution or in jail for abortion, activists said, because comprehensive state-level data has been difficult to collect.
Ms Pech said that once she arrived at the emergency room after her home abortion went bad two years ago, she was treated as if she did not deserve medical attention. The doctor who admitted Mrs. Pech accused her of being a drug addict and persuaded her colleagues not to offer any help.
No one wanted to approach me because I was in the process of having an abortion, Ms. Pech said. When she was finally taken to surgery, she said, her partner at the time was told the two of them would soon be detained for the crime of terminating the pregnancy.
The same doctor who received me called the authorities to come and arrest me, she said. She was able to quickly hire a lawyer and avoid arrest. But before the lawyer agreed to fight the case in court, he came to her home to issue an ultimatum.
He told me I had to apologize to God for what I had done, she said. And then he would help me.
Ms. Pech, who has two sons, said that with the help of lawyers she managed to avoid facing criminal penalties.
Tuesday’s landmark decision is the first of several abortion rights cases taken by the Supreme Court this month. On Thursday, judges will consider whether a provision in a law in the state of Sinaloa that protects life from conception is similarly unconstitutional. Given recent court rulings in favor of abortion, analysts say judges are more likely to decide to crack down on the law.
This would also be historic, said Ms Ayala, GIRE trial coordinator. We are in a very, very, very important September.
But among the general population, the issue remains divisive: Mexico is a largely socially conservative country, where the Catholic Church has significant influence. Most Mexicans are still against legal abortion, polls show.
But attitudes have changed over time. In 2005, only 12 percent of the country was in favor of legalizing abortion in all cases, according to a poll by research firm ParameterWith A 2019 Survey conducted by Gazeta El Financiero found that almost a third of Mexicans said they were in favor of full legalization.
The decision of these weeks signaled, for Ms. Pech at least, that change could finally come and other women could be spared the suffering she experienced.
This opens the possibility that these things will not happen again, she said. There is no reason for this to happen.
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