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Mexico's Abortion Ruling Could Mean Change For The Country And The Region

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The unanimous ruling yesterday from Mexico's Supreme Court, which says it's unconstitutional to punish abortion as a crime, marks a historic moment for reproductive rights throughout Latin America, where there has been a wave of protests by women's and abortion rights groups in the past few years. To dig into this decision and its potential reverberations across the region, we're joined now by Maria Antonieta Alcalde. She is the director of Ipas. That's a reproductive rights organization for Mexico and Central America, and she joins us now from Mexico City.

Welcome.

MARIA ANTONIETA ALCALDE: Thank you very much.

CHANG: So let me ask you - after all this time, why do you think this ruling from Mexico's Supreme Court came down now in particular?

ALCALDE: Well, this has been a very long process, and this case was brought to the court by the general attorney's office in 2017. And recently, a year and a half ago, a state of Oaxaca change its legislation - and two months ago, the state of Hidalgo and then the state of Veracruz. So I think that there is a wave of understanding women's rights in a different way. Then we have new voices in the court. Three are women, plus the president. They've been playing a significant role advancing the agenda.

CHANG: Well, you know, we hear a lot about the power, the influence of the Catholic Church in Latin America. And I'm curious. How is that influence felt at a political level in Mexico?

ALCALDE: The Catholic Church has, like, mobilized all its power to try to stop this decision to happen. But the same had happened with the social movements, and I think that this proves that the social mobilization from the ground also has power to counteract the force of the Catholic Church. And although these legislation - I mean - and I think it's very important to clear it does not decriminalize abortion in all Mexico. The decision is very specific about the state of Coahuila. The message that the courts send to the rest of the states is that they need to review the penal code. The next following months, years in Mexico is going to be very important because we can expect those regressive force in trying to push back, especially at the most conservative states.

CHANG: I want to understand more about the power of activism at play here because the abortion rights movement played a role, as you say, not only in this ruling, but has played a role more broadly across Latin America during recent years. Can you tell us a little more about that?

ALCALDE: Yeah. Latin America is a very diverse region, and we have countries that have had very progressive policies when it comes to women's rights, like Uruguay or what we have recently saw in Argentina. And then we have regions where you can find the most regressive laws on abortion in the world. I mean, in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras and Dominican Republic, abortion is completely criminalized. So what we hope to see now with the movement, what we call the green wave coming from Argentina and what we're seeing now in Mexico, is that this is going to inspire other movement. But also, this is going to support governments who are progressive. The case of Mexico proves that, like, societies are ready in Latin America to advance on abortion rights.

CHANG: You mentioned pushback from conservative groups. And I mean, here in the U.S., the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade, has been a target for decades. What do you anticipate in Mexico? Do you think that this latest ruling will get challenged relentlessly like that?

ALCALDE: Well, the decision of the court is unanimous. But at the same time, many changes need to happen at the state level. So what we can expect to see is, like, the opposition mobilized and even trying to make it harder at the state level. And just - I mean, like a final reaction - and we saw this in the case of Argentina - is that when abortion was decriminalized in Argentina, where we saw the impact was actually in Honduras. The Congress passed a law that made it even harder to make any reform to change that law. So that's the other thing that it is important that we are mindful of.

CHANG: That is Maria Antonieta Alcalde with the reproductive rights organization Ipas.

Thank you very much for joining our show today.

ALCALDE: Thank you. It was a pleasure to celebrate this historic moment for Mexican women. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 8, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A prior version of this text stated that María Antonieta Alcalde works for the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Though she worked there in the past, Alcalde is now the director of Ipas.