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Thursday, September 9, 2021 | News

Mexico’s Supreme Court declares criminalizing abortion unconstitutional

Ruling comes after years of advocacy by activists and organizations, including Ipas


In a historic ruling that stands to expand reproductive rights across Mexico, the nation’s supreme court declared on Sept. 7 that laws criminalizing abortion are unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision, the court declared Coahuila State’s penal code unconstitutional for penalizing pregnant people who choose to end a pregnancy, indicating it denies the constitutional rights to autonomy and reproductive freedom. The ruling signals that no person who has an abortion anywhere in Mexico should face prosecution—and sets a precedent for deciding future cases about abortion restrictions.

“This is a huge step forward for the recognition of reproductive rights in Mexico,” says María Antonieta Alcalde, director of Ipas Central America and Mexico. “The supreme court’s decision shows that Mexico must now move to decriminalize abortion. No woman should be punished for exercising her right to make this decision.”

Texas is moving in the other direction. So what could happen is that more women may decide to travel to Mexico—and that’s kind of the opposite of what used to happen. A lot of women used to travel to the U.S. to have a safe and legal abortion.”


– María Antonieta Alcalde, director of Ipas Central America and Mexico, on CNN

With this ruling, Coahuila becomes the fifth Mexican state where abortion is legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (joining the states of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz). But in the rest of Mexico, abortion remains legally restricted.

Based on the court’s ruling, the government of every Mexican state where abortion remains criminalized should now modify their penal codes and legalize abortion to avoid standing in contradiction to the nation’s highest court.

“All states must now ensure their laws respect, protect and promote the human rights of women and all people who can get pregnant,” Alcalde says. “With our civil society partners nationwide, we will continue to push for state-level legal frameworks that uphold women’s reproductive rights.”

Years of activism led to this moment

The supreme court’s ruling comes amidst a years-long surge in abortion rights activism across Mexico. Many activists have been inspired by the “Green Wave” feminist movement that began in Argentina, where years of advocacy resulted in the historic legalization of abortion at the end of 2020. In Mexico, 2021 has been a year full of advocacy successes, as abortion became legal in the states of Hidalgo, Veracruz and now Coahuila.

“This ruling is in many ways an achievement of the organized social movement across our nation that has been advocating for sexual and reproductive rights for many years,” Alcalde says.

Alongside its many partners, Ipas Central America and Mexico has contributed to the movement in many ways, including by:

  • Providing court officials with clinical evidence and human rights-based arguments that support expanding reproductive rights and legal abortion access.
  • Working with decisionmakers at various levels of government to strengthen knowledge of reproductive rights and the benefits of safe, legal abortion.
  • Strengthening media coverage of abortion and related topics by educating journalists on the gender and human rights perspectives surrounding these issues.
  • Helping amplify campaigns by civil society organizations calling for the legalization of abortion in various states.
  • Increasing the public’s knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights through social networks, informational campaigns and more.

“What we hope to see now with the movement, what we call the green wave coming from Argentina and what we’re seeing now in Mexico, is that this is going to inspire other movement. The case of Mexico proves that societies are ready in Latin America to advance on abortion rights.”

— María Antonieta Alcalde, director of Ipas Central America and Mexico