Mexican Supreme Court strikes down right to life legislation in historic reversal (updated)

The ruling reflects a long-term trend of court-imposed ideological agendas opposed by the majority of Mexicans.

Catholics pray in Mexico City Sept. 7, 2021, as they protest the Mexican Supreme Court's decision that declared the criminalization of abortion is unconstitutional. (CNS photo/Gustavo Graf, Reuters)
Updated Sept. 9th: On Thursday, September 9th, the court also voted to strike down the State of Sinaloa’s constitutional amendment protecting “the right to life from the moment that an individual is conceived.” One of the court’s ministers explained that “this [amendment] upsets the constitutional order and the values of a secular, plural, and democratic state,”
The court’s decrees represent a deep and surprising reversal of repeated rulings affirming the right of the states to legislate on abortion, and runs contrary to the majority pro-life sentiments of the Mexican public.

In Tuesday’s ruling, ten ministers of the Supreme Court agreed to strike down two crucial paragraphs of the criminal code in the Mexican state of Coahuila: article 196, which imposes between one and three years of imprisonment for both a woman who seeks an abortion and the person who performs it, and article 198, which adds up to six years of suspension from medical practice for doctors or nurses involved in an abortion.

The ruling is understood as applicable to all laws of a similar nature, and is expected to result in their nullification in future cases.

It remains unclear if the court will eliminate the right of health care providers to opt out of providing abortions on conscience grounds, an issue that is also before the court.

Abortion as a “right”

The court’s president, Arturo Zaldívar, made it clear that he regarded the ruling as a vindication of the “right” of women to obtain abortions in the country.

“This is about a message we want to send. This is about the constitution,” said Zaldívar to the assembled ministers of the court.

Claiming that abortion is a “constitutional right, a fundamental right, a human right,” – an assertion that has been vigorously contested within the Mexican legal system for decades – Zaldivar concluded that the court could not permit it to be prosecuted as a crime.

He also decried the Coahuila law for “stigmatizing women and gestators,” language that appeared to analysts to be an explicit nod to gender ideologues who wish to include “men” among those who can be pregnant. At least one other minister of the court also used the word “gestator” (“gestante”) in reference to the ruling.

Although the ruling only directly pertains to certain statutes of the law code of the state of Coahuila, the principles it cites are regarded as applicable to all state laws penalizing abortion in the country.

Unless the ruling is reversed, analysts believe that it will lead to lawsuits that will overturn even the many constitutional amendments passed in recent years to protect the unborn, establishing abortion on demand throughout the country, at least during the first trimester of pregnancy. The effect will be to institute the equivalent of Mexico City’s abortion law, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of unborn children since its passage in 2006.

The court’s own press office appeared to confirm this interpretation of the ruling, stating that “because the vote reached a majority that exceeded eight (out of eleven ministers), the reasoning of the Court is binding on all of the judges in Mexico, federal and local.”

“Beginning today, in resolving future cases, [judges] will have to consider unconstitutional those penal norms of federal entities that criminalize abortion in an absolute manner, such as those types of penalties that do not include the possibility of interrupting a pregnancy during a time period close to implantation, or norms that only allow abortion in cases in which there are excuses that absolve one of guilt, because in such cases the conduct is listed as a crime.”

Court’s views rejected by a majority of Mexicans

The ruling represents a trend in recent years of imposing anti-family and anti-life policies by way of the courts, after numerous failed attempts at the legislative level.

While a majority of Mexicans continue to express their opposition to such agendas, pressure by international organizations and their proxies within the country, as well as the recent ascendancy of the socialist MORENA party,

“Today Mexicans are in mourning,” stated the National Front for the Family, which noted in a press release that the ruling contradicts previous Supreme Court verdicts, as well as the Mexican Constitution itself.

“Today a blow was struck against constitutional amendments in favor of the right to life that have a sound juridical foundation, recognized at the national and international level,” stated the Front, adding that the right to life is protected by treaties, conventions, and national norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Children, and the very Constitution of the United Mexican States.”

“In recent polls, two out of three Mexicans strongly support the right to life and with much common and human sense they recognize that the right to life must prevail over other rights, because it is the condition necessary for enjoying the others,” said Front president Rodrígo Iván Cortés, referring to a recent poll by the company “Data Room by Strategos,” which found that while 90% of Mexicans regard life as a “right,” only 30% regard abortion as such.

In a video response to the ruling, Cortés also accused the media of hyping the verdict, claiming that it only applied to specific articles of the Coahuila criminal code, and expressing hope that other pro-life legislation may still be salvaged. Cortés also claimed that only corporal penalties for abortion were struck down by the court, an assertion that appears belied by the fact that the court also eliminated suspensions for medical personnel participating in abortions. Moreover, the uncompromising sentiments expressed by the court’s president, and the near-perfect unanimity of the court’s ruling, calls such a limited interpretation into doubt.

The nation’s Catholic bishops, in a statement issued prior to the ruling, also expressed their concern regarding a “national anxiety, ambiguity, and uncertainty regarding the culture of life,” and added that “we wish to recall that the human person, child of a father and a mother, whose life begins at the moment of conception, must be recognized in its dignity in all stages of its life, and deserves the same protection of the law in the face of actions against its integrity.”

An historic reversal

The Mexican Supreme Court has been a battleground for pro-life and pro-abortion forces since 2007, when Mexico City created the nation’s first abortion-on-demand law, permitting city residents to terminate the lives of their unborn children for any reason during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Until that year, abortion under most circumstances was illegal throughout the country, and throughout Latin America, with rarely-applied exceptions for cases of rape or fetal deformity. In many cases, attempts to receive an approval for a legal abortion were delayed and ultimately rebuffed by state courts, so that in practice legally-approved abortions were rare.

In 2008, the Supreme Court rejected motions filed to overturn the Mexico City law on constitutional grounds, but it also ruled that the country’s 31 states were free to maintain their own restrictions.

In the decade that followed, various states passed pro-life constitutional amendments, many of them guaranteeing the right to life from the moment of conception, in an attempt to prevent the passage of similar laws. A total of 23 states out of 31 today have pro-life constitutional amendments. The Supreme Court repeatedly refused to strike down such laws, in rulings issued in 2011, 2016, and 2020.

No explanation has been offered for the sudden reversal by the court, although some analysts have hinted that the change is attributable to pressure from the administration of the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Abortionist and LGBT agendas advancing in Mexico

The ruling and the sentiments expressed by the President of the Court and other ministers are reflective of a long-term trend in favor of anti-life and anti-family agendas in Mexico, which are being promoted by international organizations allied with the country’s ruling elite despite continuing opposition from a majority of Mexicans.

In 2009, Mexico City created homosexual “marriage”, and by late 2010 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that other states would be required to recognize such “marriages.” In 2015, the court nullified all state laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman, effectively imposing homosexual “marriage” on the entire country.

However, the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto went even further in 2016, when the president decided to amend the constitution explicitly to enshrine homosexual “marriage” in constitutional law. The move provoked massive nationwide protests, leading the president’s own party members to vote against the measure in the Senate. Shortly after, the president’s party suffered its worst political setback in history, losing its hold on a majority of the states for the first time since its founding eighty years earlier.

Momentum in favor of such ideologies increased again in December 2018 when the socialist MORENA party took effective control of both the executive and legislative branches of government in Mexico.

A strong majority of MORENA party members favor abortionist and LGBT policies, although President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has consistently resisted attempts to pressure him to support such causes, and has urged legislators to consult the public before passing any related legislation. However, López Obrador’s Secretary of Governance, Olga Sánchez Cordero, has repeatedly called for the legalization of abortion in the country, and the courts have been pressured openly by the president to accept the party’s reform initiatives.

The pro-abortion momentum generated by MORENA’s victory in late 2018 has resulted in three states repealing their protections for the unborn and establishing abortion as a “right”: Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. Now, it appears that the whole country will be forced to join them.

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About Matthew Cullinan Hoffman 27 Articles
Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is a Catholic essayist and journalist, and the author and translator of The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption (2015). His award-winning articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, London Sunday Times, Catholic World Report, LifeSite News, Crisis, the National Catholic Register, and many other publications. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, with a focus on Thomism.


  1. So much for “majority rules.” So often we hear Americans proclaim a large percentage of the population is in favor of abortion, as if that determines its morality. Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, correctly stated, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” In the case of Mexico, it seems that the majority would be on the side of truth, though, unlike the United States.

  2. This news is devastating. Why a Government can be so evil is beyond me. I hope and pray that the Mexican people come out in droves and demand that this ruling be declared unconstitutional. Mexico was once the most Catholic nation in the world but the Mexican Government is destroying that. The Mexican people have a voice, the Mexican Government found that out the hard way, by the revolution and the Cristero war. May the Mexican people cry out with one voice against this injustice. Viva Cristo Rey! Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

    • They are already starting to organize mass protests. Sadly, Mexico now has a Roe v. Wade to fight against. Hopefully in the future the country will have a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life.

  3. The headline should be “Mexican Supreme Court Purports to Strike Down Right to Life Legislation.”

    “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!”

    -Thomas Jefferson

    This quote applies to the world nowadays. There are prophecies of a great chastisement that will rival The Great Flood. There is so much evil in the world now.

    People can’t see it because they don’t have or refuse to look at it from a Catholic perspective. True Catholics know that any sufficiently bad action – not just horrific violent crimes – merits Hell.

    It appears that most people nowadays believe that as long as they can get away with it, they can do whatever they want. The worst part is that they are largely correct with regards to this world. They can provably lie in court, use the “justice” system as a weapon against their enemies, and accept bribes (i.e. private campaign contributions) – and no one in power cares enough to take action. Actually, that isn’t totally true. When one hears of murders of people associated with a particularly unfavorable (to TPTB) lawsuit, it is obvious that there are some who DO care – enough to MURDER.

  4. You would think the Mexicans of the minority would have paid more attention to their neighbor to the North as they watched the disintegration of America over the last 50
    years.Instead they continue to pour Northward in an unending stream to pocket the “Gringo’s” money. Losing their souls in the process. Eternity is a very longtime.

  5. The insidious Roe decision has had a negative effect worldwide, not only by undermining the right to life of the unborn (which is bad enough) but by encouraging judicial activism, wherein certain judges redefine the law as they see fit to further their own agendas, regardless of the will of the people and legislatures, or what the law actually says.

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