September 21, 2023
United Nations high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage
On September 7, 2023 a victory was announced for all women across Mexico: the Supreme Court has decriminalized abortions nationwide. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that banning abortions was unconstitutional, and violated women’s rights. By restricting abortion, states are removing a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, to freedom of choice, and further puts her health and wellbeing at risk.
The reasons behind abortion vary form person to person: it may be a result of health-complications, rape, lack of financial stability, or simply not what a person wants. Regardless of the reason, abortion is solely the choice of the woman that is impregnated, no-one else.
The decision made in Mexico further highlights the disparities in the USA. For decades, abortion was criminalized in Mexico and much of Latin America. In recent years, abortion activists in Latin America have inspired serious progress: elective abortion is legal in Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico. Some countries have loosened restrictions in the case of rape or health risks.
Meanwhile, the United States had established constitutional rights to abortion in 1973. However, this was overturned in June, 2022, allowing many states to ban or seriously restrict and penalize abortion. In the past, women from Mexico and other Latin American countries visited the USA to receive abortion. Now, it’s the other way around. Women from conservative states in the USA can now access abortion pills and clinics across the border.
Afterall, banning abortion does not stop abortion, it only forces women to pay bigger costs and take greater risks in seeking abortion care.
Before Mexico’s Supreme Court ruling, twelve of the country’s 32 states had already made the decision to decriminalize abortion. Now with the Supreme Court’s decision, the remaining judges in those states will have to abide by the court’s decision, although further legal work will be required to remove all penalties.
The process to make abortion available nationwide will still take some time. The Mexican Supreme Court’s decision did not overturn criminal penalties at the local level, and private or state institutions can still ban the procedure.
However, the high court ordered that abortion be removed from the federal penal code. The ruling will require the federal public health service and federal health institutions to offer abortion to those who need it. It will also allow women who are formally employed and part of the social security system and government employees to pursue the procedure through federal institutions in states where the abortion is still criminalized. The effect should ripple down and spread across the country in the coming years.
While Mexico is taking steps to ensure women’s rights and autonomy are respected, the USA is taking serious measures to control women’s bodies and choices. More than 20 American states currently ban or restrict the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy or earlier, with 14 states completely forbidding the procedure in almost all circumstances.
It should further be noted that the states with the strictest bans also have the weakest maternal supports and high child poverty rates. Women and children in these states have less access to healthcare as well as financial assistance, plus they face worse health outcomes.
States have made further restrictions to ensure that abortions are prevented, threatening to penalize any healthcare providers that assist in the procedure. In states where abortion is legal under medical concerns, many physicians are still worried they will face charges and refuse to take the risk, forcing women, and young girls, into high-risk pregnancies. Girls, as young as 10 years old, are forced to carry their pregnancies in their state or travel to seek abortion in other states.
It cannot be forgotten that pregnancy is a huge physical and mental undertaking, and comes at great risk to the mothers health and wellbeing. Forcing someone to undergo that process will only increase the risk of irreparable harm.
It comes as no surprise that women who are trapped in these conservative states now turn to Mexico to seek abortion care. Mexican activists have set up both clinics in Mexico as well as established underground services to mail abortion pills in states where the procedure is banned.
While Doctors of the World celebrates Mexico’s progress and steps to ensure gender equality through the provision of essential healthcare, we are deeply saddened to see how quickly abortion rights are deteriorating in the USA. Safe and legal abortions can save the lives of millions of women. Banning them will not prevent them from happening, but will force many women into dangerous situations that can lead to lasting harm, whether it’s carrying out the pregnancy to term or using a more dangerous method to ensure a miscarriage. Abortion is healthcare, and it’s a fundamental human right.