Things That Matter

Mexico’s Oaxaca Becomes The First State to Decriminalize Abortion In A Truly Historic Vote

The Mexican state of Oaxaca has legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. The Oaxaca Congress voted to approve a bill that would legalize the procedure. The stunning decision was colored by protests from both anti-abortion and pro-choice activists who wore green scarves in solidarity. 

This is big news as it is only the second region in the country, after Mexico City (which legalized the procedure in 2007) to do so. The historic moment demonstrates that attitudes are changing and evolving in the largely Roman Catholic country thanks to pro-choice advocates and activists. 

Mexico’s Oaxaca State Legalizes Abortion

The Congress voted 24 in favor, 10 against to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, which is also the general standard in most of the United States.

“We find no negative reasons to disapprove the verdict. There can be moral reasons, but it is urgent to legislate to hinder violence against women,” said Elisa Zepeda Laguna, a legislator of the Morena party and president of the Commission of Justice Pursuit and Administration. 

While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has avoided taking a clear stance on abortion, the legislation’s passage, comes days after Lopez Obrador said he would grant amnesty to women serving jail terms for abortion. The local Congress which approved the bill is largely dominated by Lopez Obrador’s leftist National Regeneration Movement. 

Mexico’s abortion laws

With the exceptions of the two regions now, abortion is only legal in Mexico in special circumstances. Moreover, those who do have abortions face criminal penalties. The law is extremely sexist and transphobic, it assumes anyone who gets pregnant is a woman, then presumably seeks to slut-shame the hypothetical woman for getting pregnant in the first place.

A person who procures an illegal abortion can be imprisoned for 6 months to 2 years provided they meet these three misogynist criteria: the woman doesn’t have a “bad reputation” (whatever that means), she has been able to conceal her pregnancy, and that the pregnancy was born of an illegitimate relationship. If even one of these criteria is not met, the person faces a higher penalty of one to five years in prison. 

But it’s not just recipients of abortions who face strict laws. Abortion providers can face one to six years in prison. The only exceptions are in cases of rape, pregnancies that put the mother’s health or life at risk, and in the case of serious genetic disorders. 

Abortion is about public health and social justice

Laguna notes that decriminalizing abortion is a broad social issue because it is largely poor and indigenous women who do not have legal access to the procedure. 

“In Oaxaca, abortion is the third cause of maternal death,” said congresswoman Magaly Lopez Dominguez. “No one is in favor of abortion, but of saving the lives of women that have to take that decision.”

Abortions are not only expensive but when women cannot have free and safe access to them, they often attempt to induce one themselves. These attempts often fail, comprising the health of the mother — which will only result in more expensive healthcare costs. Alternatively, women are forced to bear children they cannot afford to raise further trapping them — and their children — in a vicious cycle of poverty. 

You can never really ban abortion

Illegalizing abortions does not stop abortions from happening, it only makes them dangerous for the mother and clogs the legal system. The National Abortion Federation reports that abortion rates in Mexico, though illegal, are much higher than that of the United States. 

“These findings confirm research from other parts of the world – that making abortion illegal does not significantly decrease its frequency, it just makes it unsafe and puts women’s lives at risk,” said Fatima Juarez, lead author of the study.

In 2006, the abortion rate was 40% higher than in the U.S. and this was before it had been legalized anywhere in the country. 

“In Oaxaca a year more than 9,000 women undergo an abortion and according to the latest data, 17 percent are indigenous women under 20,” Natalia Torres, a legal representative of the activist group March 8, told Al Jazeera.

 Between 2013 and 2016, 20 people were sentenced to prison in the region for receiving abortions. 

“In four years, at least 2,184 investigations have been opened for abortion in Mexico. According to official numbers, there are at least 500 cases each year; in January 2018, there were 49 cases registered,” reports El Universal.

Abortion is not controversial 

Abortion is not complicated. Free and safe access to abortion is a human right, as all humans have the right to self-determination, it combats poverty cycles, and keeps the most vulnerable women out of the prison system, saving everyone else tax dollars. 

As the United States moves backward on abortion rights, it is all the more inspiring to see Mexico move forward. 

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