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The reproductive rights movement makes history in Oaxaca

The legalisation of voluntary termination of pregnancy in the state of Oaxaca, is one of the effects of the “green tide” movement in Mexico.

Regina Tamés
29 October 2019
Image: Nueva Sociedad. All Rights Reserved.

Almost 13 years ago, there was a lot to talk about Mexico City. For the first time in Mexican history, in April 2007, the decriminalization of abortion was approved by local congress up until the 12th week of pregnancy. It was world news, given that Latin America is one of the continents with more restrictive laws regarding women’s reproductive rights. To date, 97% of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries where abortion is penalized.

The triumph in Mexico City was achieved after decades of work by different political actors, and although there was always the risk that the local congressmen would not pass the law, it was a success. In 2007, in the Mexican capital, a combination of political opportunities came together that allowed the advancement of women's reproductive rights.

The rest of the country did not share the same fate. Although there were efforts to do so in Guerrero, Morelos and Coahuila, the political authorities would not allow a vote that could change the law. Furthermore, from 2008 to date, there has been a wave of amendments to local constitutions aiming to protect life from the point of conception in 18 states.

This is the context in which the state of Oaxaca made history last 25th September. Oaxaca is a federal state, in the south of the country that has always been characterized – in addition to its beauty, good food and cultural traditions – by huge inequalities. This is clearly highlighted by the fact that it remains one of the states that in 2016 recorded one of the highest maternal mortality rates (44.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) and in which many women have been reported and have had to face criminal trials and sentences for having an abortion.

With 24 votes in favour and 10 against, representatives of Morena voted to modify the Criminal Code of the state of Oaxaca to decriminalise abortion up to week 12

Prior to this reform, Oaxaca permitted termination of pregnancy under certain conditions, since abortion in Mexico is regulated at local level and according to the cause: the law distinguished between backstreet or illegal abortion; pregnancies that are the result of rape; foetuses with significant generic mutations or serious congenital problems; pregnancies with grave risk to the mother’s health; or artificial insemination where agreement had not been given. With the new law, Oaxaca joins Mexico City with a mixed system of time frames and justifications.

With 24 votes in favour and 10 against, representatives of Morena voted to modify the Criminal Code of the state of Oaxaca to decriminalise abortion up to week 12. The victory was overwhelming – and dramatic. The electronic voting board went down after the speeches of those who were in favour and against. Shouts were heard from within congress against the approval of the motion.

It wasn’t only the result that was important, but the process as well. The local representatives, headed by Hilda Pérez Luis, were diligent, professional and forceful. The speeches delivered in Congress were framed under the umbrella of social justice and public health, and as always informed by international standards. The admirable thing was that they did not concede in their commitment and duty as representatives of the people, despite the pressures that were exerted against them, both virtual and physical, inside and outside Congress. They finally voted according to the needs of women with arguments in defence of the secular state.

Since its emergence in Argentina, the ‘green tide’ has become a plural, organic and diverse movement. The Mexicans have taken up the handkerchief and spread it throughout the country. This level of support has made an impact and it has reached the ears of governments at federal and local levels. The presence of this movement undoubtedly made the deputies of Oaxaca feel supported in making the decision to legalise the termination of pregnancy against the critics who never ceased.

It is also interesting that the Constitution of Oaxaca protects “life from the moment of conception”, which is now compatible with the decriminalisation of abortion

The Oaxaca vote took place in the context of a national debate, of an amnesty initiative that, among others, would benefit women accused of the crime of abortion. This initiative is problematic since, on the one hand, there are individuals in prison for the crime of abortion and, on the other hand, abortion is not necessarily something that can be “excused”. In addition, this measure would not guarantee that women would stop being shamed in the future. Oaxaca's representatives moved away from this proposal to address the issue of abortion and decided to go to the heart of the problem and reform the criminal law.

It is also interesting that the Constitution of Oaxaca protects “life from the moment of conception”, which is now compatible with the decriminalisation of abortion. The amendment to the criminal code is valid even if the local Constitution is not reformed, since the Supreme Court of Justice has established that protecting life doesn’t imply that abortion should be criminalised and that denial of access to a legal abortion violates the right to health. This has been confirmed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 in the Artavia Murillo vs Costa Rica case, which pointed out that it is only through the exercise of women’s reproductive rights that the life of the child can be protected. Similarly, the Court determined that the conception refers to the implantation process, that is, when the fertilized egg adheres to the endometrial wall, but that the foetus cannot be considered a person and that the protection of the foetus is gradual and progressive.

Despite the legal triumph, however, it has not yet been published by the state in the Official Gazette and the guarantee of effective access to the health service is still pending. Meanwhile, the "green tide" continues to celebrate and demand legal abortion throughout the country.

This article was originally published on Nueva Sociedad. Read it here

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