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Mexico court rules punishment of abortion unconstitutional, decriminalizes practice nationwide


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MEXICO CITY – In a landmark ruling for abortion rights in Mexico, the nation's Supreme Court unanimously decided Tuesday that it is unconstitutional to criminally punish abortion.

The court's decision immediately affects abortion policies in Mexico's northern state of Coahuila – where strict abortion laws were the subject of the court review – and will effectively decriminalize abortion across the country as well. 

The ruling establishes “obligatory criteria for all of the country’s judges,” said court President Arturo Zaldívar. “From now on, you will not be able to, without violating the court's criteria and the constitution, charge any woman who aborts under the circumstances this court has ruled as valid.”

Abortion law in Coahuila, which borders Texas, previously threatened up to three years of jailtime for women who receive illegal abortions. 

The ruling does not immediately make abortion widely available in all parts of Mexico but could give states a roadmap to change their laws, said former Supreme Court judge Diego Valadés, via the Washington Post. He said the decision frees women who have been jailed for getting abortions. 

Only four Mexican states — Mexico City, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Hidalgo — now allow abortion in most circumstances. The other 28 states penalize abortion with some exceptions.

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Mexico is a heavily Roman Catholic country. The church was a powerful institution through colonial times and after Mexico’s independence, but a reform movement in the mid-19th century sharply limited the church’s role in daily life. Anticlerical efforts at times led to bloodshed, especially during the Cristero Rebellion from 1926 to 1929.

In a previous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of women who had been imprisoned or had their rights violated for abortions. But Rebecca Ramos, director of the nongovernmental reproductive rights group GIRE, said the latest case was the first time the justices debated the fundamental question of whether abortion should be considered a crime or not.

The Mexico court's decision contrasts with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent move to uphold a Texas law that bans people from having an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The ruling ignited debate across the country over the last week and prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to announce that the House will vote later this month on a bill that would protect the right to abortion across the country.

The ruling could provide another option for people in Texas seeking a legal abortion. Some south Texans have crossed the border into Mexico to buy misoprostol, a pill that makes up half the two-drug combination for medical abortions, for years.

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Contributing: María Verza, Associated Press