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Landmark Decision by Mexico Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Law

The Supreme Court of Mexico upheld Mexico City’s abortion law with an overwhelming majority vote of 8–3 on August 28, 2008. The ruling upheld legislation originally passed in April 2007 that allowed unrestricted access to abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy within the city limits of Mexico City. Mexico City and Cuba are the only places in Latin America which allow unrestricted access to abortion services in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. [i]

In April 2007, Mexico City’s Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and his government legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and established free public clinics in Mexico City. [ii] Abortions elsewhere in Mexico are allowed only in very specific circumstances: in cases of rape, if a mother’s life is in danger, or if the fetus has severe deformities. [iii] In Mexico City, however, the law not just legalizes the procedure in the first trimester but requires all public hospitals in Mexico City to provide abortions at no cost to the patient.

Following the passage of this legislation, the federal Attorney General’s Office and the National Human Rights Commission appealed the legislation to the Supreme Court arguing that “the Mexico City law violates a constitutional clause that guarantees the right to life and that city lawmakers cannot legally approve measures related to health.” [iv] The Supreme Court, however, disagreed deciding that the legislation did not violate Mexico’s constitution or any international agreements. [v] In addition, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s rights are a higher priority than the rights of an unborn child; however, the judges did not rule on when human life begins, instead, they argued that it is not a legal concept. [vi]

The Catholic Church in Mexico denounced the verdict and declared once again that life begins at the moment of conception. [vii] Authorities of the Catholic Church in Mexico City plan to create a sanctuary for the “victims” of abortion which will have a chapel and a burial site for the aborted fetuses. The Mexican Catholic Church has also said that participants in abortion will be automatically excommunicated. [viii] The Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico City called for the ringing of church bells and prayer to ask for forgiveness for what it deems the “indiscriminate murder of infants.” [ix]

Advocates are hopeful that the progress made in Mexico City will lead to progress in other places in the country and the region where abortions are still hard to get and where women face unsafe conditions that impact their health. Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division with Human Rights Watch said that “this decision ensures Mexico is observing fundamental human rights law. Decriminalizing abortion saves women’s lives and respects their equality and autonomy.” [x]

[i] Elisabeth Malkin, “Mexico: City’s Abortion Law Is Upheld,” World Briefing: The Americas, The New York Times, 28 August 2008, accessed 8 September 2008 <>.
[ii] Michael O’Boyle. “Mexico’s Supreme Court to Rule in Abortion Fight,” International Herald Tribune,. 23 August 2008, accessed 10 September 2008 <>.
[iii] Olga R. Rodriguez, “Mexican Supreme Court Upholds Legal Abortion,” San Francisco Chronicle, 28 August 2008, accessed 8 September 2008 <>.
[iv] The Associated Press, “Leftist Party Battles Federal Government over Landmark Mexico City Abortion Law,” International Herald Tribune: Americas, 28 May 2007, accessed 1 October 2008
[v] Jane Bussey and Kevin G. Hall, “Abortion Rights Upheld in Mexico City,” The Kansas City Star, 29 August 2008, accessed 10 September 2008 < AND Bussey&s_dispstring=Jane Bussey AND date(last 180 days)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=-180qzD&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no>.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Mathew Cullinan Hoffman, “Mexican Church to Create "Sanctuary for the Victims of Abortion" in Response to Court Ruling,”, 8 September 2008, accessed 10 September 2008 <>.
[ix] Bussey and Hall, “Abortion Rights Upheld in Mexico City.”
[x] Human Rights Watch, “Mexico: Supreme Court Upholds Mexico City Abortion Law,” Press Release published 29 August 2008.