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Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

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UN demands Mexican state ‘promptly comply’ with ruling legalizing abortion

Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

July 20, 2018 (C-Fam) – UN agencies interfered in a contentious local debate about abortion in the State of Veracruz, Mexico, last week.

The UN human rights office, the UN agency for women, and the UN Population Fund issued a joint press release to applaud a federal district court judgment that orders the legislature of Veracruz to guarantee access to abortion for women and girls on the basis of the non-binding recommendations of UN committees.

They call on the legislature to "promptly comply" with the order and offer their "technical assistance" in drafting the new abortion legislation.

The state legislature of Veracruz only just rejected legalizing abortion in December following a "Gender Alert" from the federal government. The gender alert mechanism is ostensibly designed to fight violence against women. It requires local and state governments to respond to and act on accusations of violence against women.

After failing to have the legislature change the criminal code of Veracruz, the same feminist organizations that requested the gender alert from the federal government sued the State of Veracruz in federal court to impose a change in the State's abortion laws through judicial order.

The district court judge agreed with the feminist organizations and ordered the legislature to decriminalize abortion and to ensure women and girls are able to get abortions. The UN agencies intervened to support the judge's order even though the case has yet to be litigated to a conclusion and may possibly reach the Mexico's Constitutional Court.

Both the UN Population und and UN Women denied acting illegally or imprudently in an email responding to questions from the Friday Fax. The agencies did not deny promoting abortion, but they denied promoting abortion "as a method of family planning."

They defended their demand that Veracruz "guarantee" access to abortion to women and girls as way to "support efforts to improve and realize women's right to health" based on "international standards on human rights" – a loose reference to non-binding UN documents that say abortion is an international right produced by the UN bureaucracy but never adopted by sovereign states.

The agencies confirmed they were working at all levels of the Mexican government "in close collaboration with the legislative, judiciary and executive branches of the United States of Mexico, with full respect for national ownership and leadership" and insisted the district judge decision was "based on international human rights obligations."

No binding UN treaty touches the subject of abortion even implicitly. According to international experts who signed the San Jose Articles in 2011, international law favors protecting the unborn.

Moreover, UN agreements expressly prohibit UN agencies from interfering in national and local debates on abortion, defining it a subject to be dealt with exclusively in national legislation. The same agreements instruct UN agencies to assist governments to help women avoid abortion and presume that abortion is outlawed in most, if not all, circumstances.

Abortion is a criminal offense in all 31 Mexican States, with few exceptions. The Federal District of Mexico City allows abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of life. Veracruz is widely seen as a test case for further interventions through the new gender alert mechanism to expand access to abortion.

Mexico's Constitutional Court has declined to impose a right to abortion on all 32 states, but under its current composition the court is not expected to continue to exercise judicial restraint.

Published with permission from C-Fam.

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