In Mexico, the southern state of Oaxaca decriminalized abortion in a 24-10 vote in the state legislature, on September 25 2019. Abortion restrictions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy were lifted. This decision makes this state only the second part of Mexico to decriminalize abortion. Mexico City, capital of Mexico, removed restrictions on abortion in 2007, but this was followed by many Mexican states passing constitutional abortion prohibitions. Currently, the other 31 states only allow abortions in rape cases. This recent decision appears to be part of a wider movement towards abortion access. A Mexican supreme court ruling upheld allowing women to have an abortion after rape, as well as public hospital access. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had sent a bill to Mexico’s Congress which would include amnesty for those incarcerated for minor crimes, including for women who have had abortions. After this significant abortion bill passed, protesters across different Mexican cities demonstrated to demand safe and legal abortions.
Natalia Torres, a legal representative of women’s group March 8, said: “In Oaxaca a year more than 9,000 women undergo an abortion and according to the latest data, 17 percent are indigenous women under 20.” Government figures indicate that thousands of abortions occur in this state, which is one of the poorest in Mexico, and that it is the third leading cause of death among women there. Since 2016, approximately 20 women have been imprisoned for illegal abortions in Oaxaca.
The expansion of abortion rights in Mexico and greater leniency towards women who have had illegal abortions is a welcome development. Progress towards abortion access has been quite slow, with a lot of backlash being a given in a country that is dominated by social conservatism and the Roman Catholic Church. While AMLO has not elevated the abortion issue, the current national government led by the left-wing National Regeneration Movement responded positively towards these developments. However, the overall lack of access to abortion remains a significant barrier towards giving women greater rights and control over their personal health outcomes.
The abortion rights movement across Latin America, associated with green bandanas, has many obstacles in front of it. While abortion rights were slightly expanded in Mexico, the level of restrictions on abortion in Latin America remain oppressive. Three Central American countries: El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras; have total abortion bans. El Salvador has received international attention for its aggressive responses towards suspected abortions, including women being sentenced upwards of 40 years in prison. For international organizations and other countries, finding ways to promote women’s rights in a localized manner is important, so it is not seen from within a given country as outsiders imposing their perspectives on locals. Supporting and bolstering the growing abortion rights movement in Latin America appears to be the most effective way to promote changes in these countries.