On Wednesday, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down all federal penalties on abortion, saying that the national regulation was an unconstitutional violation of women’s rights and that criminalizing abortion was “gender-based violence and discrimination.” The ruling will require all federal health institutions to offer abortions to anyone who requests them. A patchwork of state restrictions remains, with 20 states still criminalizing abortion, but the ruling is a massive win for Mexican activists in the Marea Verde or “Green Wave” movement, whose supporters wear green bandanas.
The decision also highlights just how extreme the United States has become on abortion in the eyes of the rest of the world. In the last three decades, about 60 countries have expanded abortion rights, while only four countries have rolled back access: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Poland, and the U.S.
But to some in Mexico, the U.S. is an inspiration. “We’re not going to stop. Let’s remember what happened in the United States,” said Irma Barrientos, director of the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived. “After 40 years, the Supreme Court reversed its abortion decision, and we’re not going to stop until Mexico guarantees the right to life from the moment of conception.”
Mexico City decriminalized abortion in 2007 and, two years ago this week, the Mexican Supreme Court decriminalized the procedure in Coahuila, a state on the Texas border. Aguascalientes became the 12th state to decriminalize the procedure last week. Following these changes, multiple activist groups in Mexico have started shipping abortion pills to people in Texas and other U.S. states. Other people have traveled to Mexico for abortions because that was easier than getting care in the U.S. There isn’t great data on how many Americans are getting care in Mexico, but one Tijuana clinic said half of their patients in July 2022 were from the U.S., up from a quarter that May.
Mexico’s Supreme Court said in a statement that the “criminalization of abortion constitutes an act of gender-based violence and discrimination, as it perpetuates the stereotype that women and people with the capacity to get pregnant can only freely exercise their sexuality to procreate and reinforces the gender role that imposes motherhood as a compulsory destiny.”
It’s all the more striking to read that statement when you remember that Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country. However, experts have noted that abortion restrictions are more correlated with creeping authoritarianism than they are with religion. A 2021 New York Times analysis contained this chilling sentence: “Curbs on women’s rights tend to accelerate in backsliding democracies, a category that includes the United States, according to virtually every independent metric and watchdog.”
Rebeca Ramos, executive director of GIRE, an abortion rights group that sued over the 1931 Mexican regulation that criminalized abortion, also made the connection between abortion and participation in society.
“We’re on a very good path,” Ramos told the Times. “This is a recognition that women and people with the ability to gestate have agency and we are first-class citizens. That democracy is coming to us, as well.” As a side note, Mexico’s next presidential election is in June 2024—both leading candidates are women.
The U.S. is, decidedly, not on a good path.