Friday, November 22, 2019
Reprohealthlaw Blog Commentaries (Oct. 31, 2019): The Mexican Supreme Court's latest abortion ruling: In between formalities, a path to decriminalization, by Estefanía Vela Barba:
In Mexico's Supreme Court's latest abortion ruling, issued earlier this year, the justices of the First Chamber found that denying a woman access to abortion when her health may be at risk is unlawful, violating her right to health codified in the San Salvador Protocol and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The San Salvador Protocol is an additional protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights that expands on the original protections of economic, social, and cultural rights referenced in the American Convention. In General Comment No. 14, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights interpreted Article 12 of the ICESCR to affirm the right to individual autonomy regarding one's own health decisions and the right to attain the highest standard of health.
The Mexican Court relied on these international instruments in tandem with their constitution to emphasize that the right to health includes the right to access the "full range of facilities, goods, services, and conditions" necessary to execute one's health decisions and attain the highest possible level of health.
The Court held that Mexico's General Health Law, which does not "explicitly contemplate access to abortion," must be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the internationally-codified right to health. The Court further understood that health holistically encompasses physical, mental, and social well-being "as defined by each individual." The decision, furthermore, referred to abortion as a "therapeutic intervention." The denial of such an intervention is a denial of a woman's right to health, the Court said.
The case is also important in that it had to overcome the procedural challenges of an amparo proceeding. An amparo proceeding is meant as a guarantee of an individual's Constitutional rights and can generally only be brought under particular circumstances once all means of appeal have been exhausted. Essentially, the purpose of amparo suits is "to stop or reverse an unjust ruling."
In Mexican case law, the amparo suits tend to be interpreted quite narrowly, limiting its availability in denial-of-abortion cases, since the resolution of the lawsuit nearly always takes significantly longer than the duration of a full-term pregnancy.
Here, the plaintiff had already successfully sought her abortion in Mexico City, and the district court in Mexico held that the suit should not reach the merits, because "the subject matter of the government action being challenged ceased to exist" once the plaintiff obtained her abortion.
The Mexican Supreme Court, though, on appeal, applied the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to find that it must adopt a more liberal interpretation of the bounds of this amparo suit in order to account for the disparate impact of the apparently "gender-neutral" provisions allowing for such lawsuits. The Court found that denying Jane Doe's case based on the procedural limitations of amparo alone would "hinder women's right to access justice in practically everything related to pregnancies, including their termination."
While the Court did not address the interplay with the Mexican Criminal Code and General Health Law as it related to abortion services and focused primarily on the implementation of the General Health Law, many abortion-rights activists consider this ruling a progressive step forward for the country.