MEXICO CITY, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, a major victory for advocates of women’s health and human rights, just as parts of the United States enact tougher laws against the practice.
The decision in the world’s second biggest Roman Catholic nation means that courts can no longer prosecute abortion cases, and follows Argentina’s historic legalization which took effect earlier this year.
Supreme Court President Arturo Zaldivar hailed the unanimous decision as “a watershed moment” for all women, especially the most vulnerable.
The ruling stemmed from a 2018 case in the northern state of Coahuila that challenged a local criminal law.
It also comes as a growing feminist movement has taken to the streets in Mexico to press for change, including calls to end anti-abortion laws on the books in much of the country.
Mexico, with some 100 million Catholics, is the largest Roman Catholic country after Brazil. The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures.
Hundreds of mostly poor Mexican women have been prosecuted for abortion, while at least several dozen remain jailed.
Tuesday’s vote establishes a mandatory criteria for all judges in the country, making it no longer possible to prosecute any woman who has an abortion without violating the criteria of the court and the constitution, Zaldivar said.
While the judges said the decision could not be applied retroactively, some lawyers speculated that the ruling may open the possibility for already-convicted women to appeal their sentences.
A number of U.S. states have recently taken steps to restrict women’s access to abortion, particularly Texas, which last week enacted a sweeping ban on abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.
The ruling may lead to U.S. women in states such as Texas deciding to travel south of the border to terminate their pregnancies.
In July, the state of Veracruz became just the fourth of Mexico’s 32 regions to decriminalize abortion.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has never been an outspoken proponent of abortion rights, and instead aligned with a small political party founded by Christian conservatives known for its hard-line opposition to abortion ahead of his landslide election victory in 2018.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lopez Obrador stressed that the decision was the court’s to make and pledged not to interfere.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Sandra Maler)