U.S. Sliding Backwards on Reproductive Rights, Even as Our Neighbor to the South Moves Forward

Written by By Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations | Published: September 15, 2021

Last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling: having an abortion is not a crime. This ruling is a dramatic shift for the majority-Catholic country. While abortion through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy was already legal and widely available in Mexico City, as well as in the states of Hidalgo, Veracruz, and Oaxaca, it remains severely restricted in most of the rest of the country.

A report in the New York Times indicates that through the first seven months of 2021, there were 432 investigations opened across the country into potential cases of illegal abortion. And Reuters reports that according to the abortion rights group GIRE (Grupo Información en Reproducción Elegida), at least 172 people have been jailed for the crime of illegal abortion between January 2010 and January 2020.

With this new ruling, however, all that is going to change.

It will take time for the ruling’s effects to translate into greater abortion access across the country. There are laws on the books in many Mexican states that will have to be changed or challenged, and the Court didn’t set a gestational limit on abortion, so there will likely be further argument about that aspect of the decision. Nevertheless, it’s a huge step forward for reproductive rights in Mexico.

And it couldn’t have happened at a more ironic moment.

Only a week before Mexico’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to step in to block Texas’s new abortion ban from going into effect, essentially eliminating the right to abortion in that state. The Texas law is an insidious little piece of legislation. It outlaws abortion at the point when cardiac activity can be detected—about six weeks into pregnancy (and well before many people even know they’re pregnant, let alone have time to decide whether they want an abortion and to obtain the procedure). It also prevents elected officials or prosecutors from enforcing the law, instead allowing private citizens to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion (medical providers, other clinic staff, friends and family who help pay for the procedure—even the taxi driver who takes the patient to the clinic). Those abortion “whistleblowers” stand to win $10,000 per case.

It’s a fun-house mirror image of what’s happening south of the border.

The Texas law, too, will take some time to achieve its widest effects, but already multiple other states are considering passing similar measures. Reproductive rights groups are challenging the law, but given that the Supreme Court already let it go into effect despite its obvious flaws (to put it mildly), it’s anyone’s guess how that court battle will play out. For the moment, just as Mexico takes a step forward, the United States steps back.