MEXICO CITY, May 3, 2013 ( – The Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico yesterday rejected two lawsuits filed by state municipalities seeking to overturn constitutional amendments in their states protecting the right to life from conception, offering a surprise upset for pro-abortion forces who have enjoyed momentum in their favor on the court since 2011.

The court ruled that the suits brought by the municipalities of Asuncion Ixtaltepec in the state of Oaxaca, and Uriangato in the state of Guanajato, which complained that the amendments interfered with their right to protect a woman’s “health,” were without merit. It also discarded claims that the amendments were invalidated by a federal government regulation requiring all hospitals in Mexico to perform abortions and give “emergency contraception” to women in rape cases, known as NOM 046.


Two of the court’s eleven justices, known in Mexico as “ministers,” were not present during the vote, one of them leaving moments before the vote was taken. Their absence left a 5-4 majority against the suits, although a minority of four out of eleven would have been sufficient to uphold a challenge to a state law.  

The ruling contrasts with one issued Monday which struck down a similar pro-life amendment passed in the state of Queretaro.  The former ruling was based on a procedural error in the promulgation of the law and on Tuesday the court declared that the verdict only applied to the municipality that filed suit against the state government, leaving the amendment intact for all other municipalities in Queretaro.

The court’s decisions are consistent with a ruling in 2009 affirming the right of Mexican states to protect the right to life in their constitutions.   The court also ruled at that time that Mexico City’s abortion law, which allows doctors to freely kill the unborn during the first trimester of pregnancy, was “constitutional.”

However, since the 2009 rulings the court’s ministers have moved in the direction of striking down the right-to-life amendments, almost doing so in a 2011 decision in which a minority of four ministers protected the amendments from a majority of seven.

Eighteen of Mexico’s 31 states have passed right-to-life constitutional amendments since Mexico City legalized abortion in 2007, and the nation’s Federal District remains the only jurisdiction where abortions are legal beyond the country’s traditional exceptions for rape, the life of the mother, and in some cases, fetal deformity.

The absence of two of the court’s eleven ministers during such an important vote suggests that the judges are feeling the political heat surrounding an issue that has widened the already deep rift between the ultra-liberal residents of the nation’s Federal District, who tend to have a tolerant and even supportive attitude towards the killing of the unborn and the rest of the country, which is strongly opposed to abortion.  The margin for the pro-life position on the court remains narrow, and upcoming appointments to the court by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Senate are likely to be decisive regarding the issue. 


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