Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruling Favors Abortion Law

August 27, 2008 - 4:01 PM
The Supreme Court indicated Wednesday it will uphold a Mexico City law allowing abortion that has divided the country.
Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruling Favors Abortion Law (image)

The Supreme Court indicated Wednesday it will uphold a Mexico City law allowing abortion that has divided the country.

Mexico City (AP) - The Supreme Court indicated Wednesday it will uphold a Mexico City law allowing abortion that has divided the country.

Four of the 11 Supreme Court justices said during deliberations that they would vote against declaring the law unconstitutional. Eight votes would be needed to strike it down.

The justices were expected to take a formal vote in the next couple of days.

Mexico City's leftist government legalized abortion last year, allowing doctors to terminate a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks.

The federal Attorney General's Office and National Human Rights Commission appealed the law to the Supreme Court. The federal government argues the city assembly can't make health laws.

Elsewhere in Mexico, abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, when the mother's life is in danger or if the fetus has severe deformities.

Most Latin American countries allow abortion if the woman's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. In 2006, Nicaragua banned abortion in all cases. Cuba permits abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as does the United States.

Since the law took effect, more than 12,000 women have had abortions at the 14 Mexico City hospitals providing them, according to the city health department.

Of those, 20 percent have been from outside the capital, said Raffaela Schiavon, the director of the international abortion rights group Ipas who has been advising the city government.

The law has exposed deep divisions in a country where abortion had rarely been at the forefront of public debate.

Pro-life groups have marched against the law and urged doctors to refuse to perform the procedure - a choice the law allows.

During a protest Tuesday, the anti-abortion group Pro-Vida performed ultrasounds on two pregnant volunteers, broadcasting the fetuses' heartbeats on loudspeakers outside Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.

"We have the right to choose about our body but we don't have the right to end the life of a human being," said volunteer Martha Gasca, who is 20 weeks pregnant.

Gasca, 25, said that if the law is upheld, she will fight abortion by educating people about its repercussions.

"They are not thinking about the psychological damage that the girls who have abortions go through," Gasca said, adding that she considered aborting her first child until she found the support of Pro-Vida.

On the other side of the debate, the Network of Young People for Sexual and Reproductive Rights has vowed street protests if the court overturns the law.

Most doctors in Mexico City's hospitals refuse to perform abortions, Schiavon said, but the city has tried to make abortions accessible by creating a hot line for women and opening counseling centers in hospitals.

"Despite all of the obstacles and the conscientious objections, the service is working," Schiavon said. "Doctors, nurses and social workers have lived up to the commitment with a lot of generosity."

Schiavon said a court decision against the appeal "would be a historic ruling that recognizes the importance of this problem from the point of view of public health and women's rights."