Mexico: Federal District decriminalizes abortion

Legislators in Mexico’s Federal District (DF, Mexico City) voted 46-19 with one abstention on April 24 in favor of a law decriminalizing abortion in the DF during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The law also requires the DF government to provide abortions in public hospitals, along with medical and social counseling and education on sexual and reproductive health. The law will take effect the day after it is officially published; the DF government has 60 days to make arrangements for providing the new services.

In the Federal District Legislative Assembly (ALDF), the equivalent of a city council, the votes for the measure came from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which governs the DF; the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the former ruling party; and several smaller parties. The center-right National Action Party (PAN) of Mexican president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa and the small Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM) voted against the reform. One PRI legislator abstained from voting on the law, which was first introduced by another PRI legislator, Armando Tonatiuh Gonzalez Case. (La Jornada, April 25)

PAN legislators immediately announced plans to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. The Roman Catholic archdiocese for Mexico City, headed by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, reacted by excommunicating the legislators when they voted for the reform, and DF head of government Marcelo Ebrard after he signed it. On April 29 Cardinal Rivera called on doctors and nurses in public hospitals to refuse to perform abortions. Ebrard had said on April 27 that public medical personnel were “public servants” and “cannot excuse themselves from complying with the law.” However, the law is not clear on this point, and the DF government hasn’t officially announced its policy on individual choices by doctors and nurses. The DF government has made preliminary moves towards charging Cardinal Rivera and his spokesperson, Hugo Valdemar Romero, with violating Mexican laws against interference in politics by religious organizations. (Univision, April 29 from AFP; LJ, April 29)

Most Mexican states allow abortion only under special conditions, such as rape or danger to the mother’s health. According to the New York Times, the new law makes the DF the “largest entity in Latin America, outside Cuba and Puerto Rico, to permit women to have abortions on demand in the first trimester.” Under the law Mexican women from outside the DF will be able to go there for abortions. (NYT, April 25) Currently about 100,000 women have abortions in Mexico each year, according to Alejandro Chanona, leader of the Convergence party group in the ALDF; the majority of the abortions are clandestine and are carried out in unsafe conditions (LJ, April 25)

The left-leaning daily La Jornada wrote on April 25 that “the legal reform passed yesterday, combined with the recent approval of civil unions, helps place the Federal District in the modern world on an international level.” (LJ, April 25) [On Nov. 9, 2006, the DF passed a law allowing civil unions between people of the same or different sexes. See WW4R, Nov. 15, 2006]

There is already movement in other states to follow the DF’s lead. In the northern state of Nuevo Leon, state PRD president Socorro Cesenas Chapa announced that she would study the possibility of introducing a similar law and would discuss it with the leftist Workers Party (PT) and other political parties, and with civil and women’s groups. However, the PAN holds a solid majority in the state legislature, with 22 of the 44 deputies’ seats, and the state PRI, with 15 seats, currently considers a reform unnecessary. The PRD has only one seat; the PT has two. (, April 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 29

See our last posts on Mexico.