Abortion Laws in Mexico: A Women’s Rights Issue

The lack of access to free, high quality and equitable sexual and reproductive health services is real problem in Mexico and constitutes a violation of the rights of women.


Graffiti in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

In 2007 the federal district of Mexico City passed a law allowing abortion for women in the first trimester no matter what the circumstance. Abortion is permitted in all 32 states if a woman becomes pregnant from rape and in 29 if the woman’s life is at risk (Guttenmacher Institute, 2008). Abortion services are provided free in Mexico City for residents and at a fee for non-residents. This is discriminatory against women who are faced with practical, social or economic obstacles preventing them from reaching Mexico City. A human rights based approach (HRBA) to the provision of sexual and reproductive health services in Mexico would ensure more effective implementation and help women across the country to enjoy the rights they are entitled to.

The HRBA approach to development identifies “rights-holders”, people whose rights are not being met, and “duty-bearers”, who are responsible for ensuring these rights. While this may all sound complicated, the clear link between human rights and developments has led many organisations, such as the UN, Actionaid and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to use this approach. The HRBA approach aims to empower “rights-holders” by improving the capacity of “duty-bearers” to fulfil their obligations.

This can be achieved through legal policy reform and healthcare reform in Mexico, as per the standards set out in following two human rights treaties, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), both of which Mexico ratified in 1981. The healthcare standards set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are another useful guide.

International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate woman hood and “press for demands”, took place on the 8th of March. It coincided with the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which took place from the 4-15th of March. Both events brought the issue of gender equality in developing countries, and the potential for change, to the attention of international community.

Furthermore Mexico has made a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Goal 3, to promote gender equality and empower women, and goal 5, to improve maternal health both have targets to be met by 2015. Both goals are inhibited by abortion laws that remain restrictive in most of the country, affecting women from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds he most.

Improvements in the public sector also hint at the possibility for change. The recent overhaul of the healthcare system in Mexico has culminated in near universal health coverage but comprehensive sexual and reproductive health for women is still not being provided.

The discriminatory abortion laws in Mexico must be addressed. The right to health, life, self-determination and choice are just a few of the many human rights that women in Mexico are prevented from enjoying.


“Careful! Machismo Kills” – Picture taken in Mexico City

Let’s consider the figures. Studies carried out by the Guttmacher Institute in 2012 found that 95%of the 4.4 million abortions in Latin America were unsafe and that 12% of all maternal deaths were a result of unsafe abortions.

Unsafe abortions are also expensive for the State. Women who undergo an unsafe abortion are highly likely to need medical care later on. Figures from the Guttmacher Institute show a 40% increase in the need for women to be hospitalised with complications following an unsafe abortion between the 1990s and 2006. Hospitalisations are more prevalent for poorer women in rural areas who can neither afford to travel to Mexico City nor pay for the “safest” of the unlicensed abortion clinics. Complications and death from unsafe abortions are preventable!

Legal policy reform and health care reform are both needed stop the violation of these women’s rights. The national decriminalisation of abortion up to 12 weeks, which has already proved successful in Mexico City is required first and foremost.

To decrease maternal mortality, morbidity rates and the level of unwanted pregnancies, women should be provided with comprehensive family planning and abortion counselling and services, which include access to modern contraception.

Education for men and women, particularly young women, and the training of medical professionals is also vital. Tackling the problem of gender inequality in this way is a key part of HRBA.

Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) is leading an international campaign calling for global access to safe and legal abortion. Campaigns for the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health rights will culminate on May 28th, International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Find out more about how you can get involved with the campaign: http://www.wgnrr.org/current-campaigns.

Georgia Booth


Guttmacher Institute (2008) ‘Facts on Induced Abortion in Mexico’ [online] Available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2008/10/01/FIB_IA_Mexico.pdf [Accessed 23/02/2013]

Guttmacher Institute (2012) ‘Facts on Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean’ [online] Available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_AWW-Latin-America.pdf [Accessed 25/02/2013]

International Women’s Day (2013) [online] Available at http://www.internationalwomensday.com/about.asp#.US9W6jA7164 [Accessed 28/02/2013]

Kane, G. (2008) Abortion Law Reform in Latin America: Lessons for Advocacy Gender & Development Vol. 16, No. 2

Women’s Link Worldwide (2012) ‘Human Rights: The Foundation for a Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Counselling Service’ [online] Available at http://www.womenslinkworldwide.org/wlw/new.php?modo=detalle_proyectos&dc=64 [Accessed 26/02/2013]

World Health Organisation (2012) ‘Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems’ [online] Available at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/9789241548434/en/ [Accessed 05/03/2013]


One thought on “Abortion Laws in Mexico: A Women’s Rights Issue

  1. Pingback: In Just Three Months, States Proposed An Astonishing 694 Provisions About Reproduction | Syndicated News Services

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