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The Supreme Court In Mexico Votes To Decriminalize Abortion


Mexico's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional. This could lead to the legalization of abortion in the world's second-largest Catholic country. Mary Beth Sheridan is a correspondent with The Washington Post and joins us from Mexico City. Mary Beth, thanks for being here.

MARY BETH SHERIDAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: It's a significant move in a country with one of the world's largest Catholic populations to do this, but it's only one law in one Mexican state. So how is this likely to influence Mexico as a whole, if at all?

SHERIDAN: Right. Yes. It's expected to have very broad consequences. The way the Mexican law works is the Supreme Court has 11 members. If at least eight of them agree on an opinion, then that ruling applies throughout the country. So, in other words, federal judges and local judges throughout Mexico would be bound by the same ruling that comes from this case, which did apply to the state of Coahuila.

MARTIN: So what happens now to women who were criminally charged or imprisoned for getting an abortion?

SHERIDAN: Right. So there's actually different opinions about exactly how that will work out. I think the broad acknowledgment is that women who were jailed or men who were jailed for helping them to get an abortion will be able to get out of jail. There's some question about whether it will happen immediately. The government in Coahuila state, which was directly addressed in this case, they've said they envisioned anybody who was jailed for an abortion charge to be freed pretty much immediately and that this would be retroactive. Others have suggested that in some places, women or other people in jail might need to go through a procedure of appealing. But given the ruling, the expectation is they will all be freed.

MARTIN: How did this come about? I mean, was this the result of years of work by women's rights organizations?

SHERIDAN: You know, this is really coming at a pretty remarkable moment in Mexico. Women's organizations for years have been pressing for more rights, both in the political sphere and, you know, there's been big demonstrations against violence against women. And so what you're really seeing is some remarkable results of that effort for years. For example, the new session of Congress just opened, and it's half women. You have constitutional amendment that is aimed at giving - providing gender equality in coming years in senior decision-making positions in government. So the declaration from the court does reflect both the efforts of women's organizations to try to have more legal abortion rights and also efforts to sort of reframe the abortion issue as one in which many of the women who get abortions in Mexico are seen as poor or young teenagers. And it's been framed pretty much as a social issue, which is a pretty different way from the way the Catholic Church has traditionally presented it. So that argument that this is - you know, there's already a very large number of illegal abortions that occur in Mexico, often with bad results of the health of women, that kind of framing has become more dominant and frankly, you know, persuaded a lot more Mexicans that this would be acceptable.

MARTIN: Has the church responded?

SHERIDAN: They wrote an editorial in one of the Catholic publications urging the judges not to take this decision because of fear, you know, that the arguments are going to be happening. But so far, it's been a fairly muted response from the church.

MARTIN: Mary Beth Sheridan with The Washington Post in Mexico City, we appreciate your reporting.

SHERIDAN: No problem. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.