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Mexican, Colombian Supreme Court Justices Discuss Path to Abortion Rights at Petrie-Flom Center Forum

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is housed at Harvard Law School.
The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is housed at Harvard Law School. By Julian J. Giordano
By Asher J. Montgomery, Contributing Writer

Supreme Court justices from Mexico and Colombia, Alfredo Guitérrez Oritz Mena and Natalia Ángel Cabo, discussed abortion rights in their respective countries at a panel hosted on Friday by the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School.

The forum comes four months after the United States Supreme Court stripped away constitutional protections for abortion, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The panelists discussed decisions issued by the Supreme Courts of both Mexico and Colombia in the last two years that expanded abortion access. In September 2021, the Supreme Court in Mexico ruled in September 2021 that it is unconstitutional to punish abortion as a crime. Colombia’s top court issued a ruling in February that legalized abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“It’s been a very, very, very long road to where we got last year,” Oritz Mena said.

Oritz Mena said the story of a 13-year-old rape victim who was pressured not to have an abortion, despite receiving permission from a local district attorney, has long influenced the abortion debate in Mexico.

“This was an outrage,” Oritz Mena said. “And Mexico City, which has a tradition of very progressive legislation, started to change its laws on abortion.”

Ángel Cabo, the Colombian Supreme Court justice, delivered a presentation about the evolution of abortion rights over the last 20 years in the country.

She discussed the Green Wave, a pro-abortion movement in Latin America and the pro-abortion organization “Causa Justa,” which she said helped shift public opinion in the country. Ángel Cabo said many Colombians came to view abortion as a public health issue, rather than a moral or religious one.

Similarly, Oritz Mena said the abortion debate in Mexico has shifted to center around women’s rights.

“The Supreme Court said two things,” he said. “First, women had a constitutional right to live without violence. The fact that the doctors had not performed the abortions was an act of violence. And secondly, the court asserted an affirmative duty by public hospitals to perform and give free access for abortion, safe and free access to abortion.”

During a Zoom presentation at the event, UC Davis Law School professor Mary R. Ziegler ’04 discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which ended abortion protections.

“This story that both of these justices told you I think was a story about changes to democracy in Mexico and Colombia, and I think the same is true in the United States,” Ziegler said. “If you’re looking at how and why the United States is moving in another direction it, too, is a story about changes to American democracy.”

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