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Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday to decriminalise abortion, a victory for women’s rights activists in stark contrast to increasing restrictions on the practice across the border in the US.
In its first in-depth ruling on the topic, the court’s 11 judges said parts of a law in Coahuila state that established prison terms of up to three years for abortion were unconstitutional. The decision applies to the northern Mexican state bordering the US but also sets a precedent that all judges in the country must follow.
“Today is a watershed in the history of the rights of all women, especially the most vulnerable,” Supreme Court president Arturo Zaldívar said at the end of Tuesday’s session.
In Mexico City, Veracruz, Hidalgo and Oaxaca states, abortion is already decriminalised for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. It is only permitted in limited circumstances in the predominantly Catholic country’s remaining 28 states.
“It’s a historic precedent,” said Veronica Cruz, who has been an abortion rights activist in Mexico for 20 years. “Never again should there be the temptation to put a women in prison for an abortion.”
Cruz said the Supreme Court’s decision would put pressure on lawmakers and bolster legal challenges in states where local penal codes still ban abortions.
The decision comes as Texas, which borders Mexico to the north, implements the most restrictive abortion law in the US. The US Supreme Court last week refused to intervene to stop the law, which allows private citizens to sue people for providing or facilitating abortions after six weeks.
In Mexico, several attempts by abortion rights activists to get a ruling from its Supreme Court on the issue failed for technical reasons in recent years. The court is yet to rule on a separate case over whether medical staff can refuse to carry out abortions as conscientious objectors.
Local media have reported small protests outside the court from anti-abortion groups in recent days.
Even in exceptions allowed under current law, such as for victims of rape and expecting mothers whose health is at risk, access to abortion in Mexico can be difficult, activists say.
In Latin America, abortion is already legal in Cuba and Uruguay. Last year Argentina’s Senate legalised abortion up to 14 weeks.