Are you a woman? Looking for a home in Latin America that is exciting and dynamic, with liberal politics and a respect for human rights? Come to Mexico City! Yes, beautiful Mexico City where last Thursday, the Mexican Supreme Court upheld a law legalizing abortion in the nation’s capital.
When I was born 27 years ago, it was into a city were women died because there was no access to legal and safe abortions. For nearly a decade I’ve worked to ensure that young women have access to sexual health information and services. In a country where most abortions are illegal, and those that aren’t are nearly impossible to obtain, being able to control your own sexual health and prevent pregnancy takes on even greater meaning. It can save your life.
But in April 2007, the district legislative assembly decided to legalize abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy (like Washington, DC, Mexico City is a federal district that can make its own laws, like a state). Responding to citizen demand, the district Ministry of Health immediately began to provide abortion services. More than 900 women had abortions in just the first two months. But after only a month, we woke up to the news that the Mexican human rights ombudsman, on behalf of the National Human Rights Commission, was challenging the Mexico City law, claiming it violated the right to life guarantee in the constitution. Apparently this guarantee didn’t apply to women.
Happily, the Supreme Court justices didn’t see it that way, and their ruling gives me hope as a young Mexican woman. Rather than focus on the ambiguous and endless discussion about when life begins the ruling focuses on the rights of women. It recognizes the right of any woman to make reproductive decisions she believes are best for her. It reaffirms the responsibility the State and its institutions have to guarantee women’s rights to health and life. The judges also brought to their discussion issues that women experience daily, such as: gender inequality, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, marginalization and poverty. Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero stated in her arguments that, as Mexico is a secular country, she cannot impose her personal religious values on other citizens.
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Last year I was seated in the balcony in the Legislative Assembly, watching and listening as legislators voted on the law that legalized abortion in Mexico City through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It was one of the best days of my life. This week, following the judicial deliberation (which was very open and actually broadcast online through the Court’s website), I was beginning to feel that life was worth living. I felt that even though I didn’t get to see the global revolutionary years in Mexico, where everything was peace and love, this is, at least for me and all the women and men I love, a cultural and social revolution without precedent. We are moving away from a society based on fear, prejudice, myth and stigma to a society where the word respect has found its best operational definition.
This is a big and much needed step. When society criminalizes women for making decisions about their reproductive lives, the consequences are immeasurable – it has an effect not just on them, but on their children, their families and their communities. The citizens of Mexico have decided to open a sincere, fearless and fruitful discussion about abortion in order to overcome such negative consequences.
I realize of course that legalization of abortion on its own won’t change much. We need to address other issues, such as guaranteeing access to sexuality education, information and reproductive health services. We have a lot of work to do.
So what is the real difference right now?
Society can no longer just see women as criminals for exercising their rights.
So come visit the new Mexico City! Beyond the beautiful streets, buildings, parks and museums, food and music, there is something that is changing: our way of seeing women in society. Thank goddess I am a woman.