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Constitutional Controversies on Abortion in Mexico (Guanajuato, Queretaro & Oaxaca)

Date of most recent action: 30 Apr 2013

Mexican Supreme Court upholds the right to life

What’s at Stake

  • The right to life from the moment of conception until natural death
  • The sovereignty of Mexican States to adopt pro-life legislation


In 2007, Mexico made the controversial decision to legalize abortion before 12 weeks of pregnancy. The following year, a number of pro-life groups attempted to overturn this law by challenging it before the Supreme Court of Justice. The attempt was unsuccessful – the court affirmed the constitutionality of the 2007 law. However, the court also said that this was an issue that should be reserved for states to legislate as they saw fit. This left the door open for individual states to protect unborn lives themselves by passing legislation that would protect the right to life.

18 states then went ahead and amended their local constitutions to protect life from the moment of conception until natural death. But these changes attracted the ire of abortion activists: in response to the pro-life amendments, five separate Mexican states presented lawsuits aimed at declaring them unconstitutional or invalid. Two of the lawsuits sought to declare the amendments as unconstitutional, but the court upheld the constitutionality of the amendments in both cases.

Three cases were left pending, and these proceedings continued until April 2013. The fact that the proceedings went on so long is significant. The only two pro-life justices at the Supreme Court finished their term in November 2012, so abortion advocates were intent on getting a ruling after they had left. These three remaining cases were “Constitutional Controversies”: they sought to declare invalid (rather than unconstitutional) the pro-life amendments from three states: Querétaro, Oaxaca and Guanajuato.

Municipalities from Oaxaca and Guanajuato each argued that the pro-life amendments violated their sphere of competence by not permitting them to perform abortions. But providing health care services isn’t one of the explicit functions of a municipality, so the court could not declare the amendments invalid. The court’s decision therefore upheld the right to life from the moment of conception.

In the other remaining case, the court did declare Querétaro’s pro-life amendment invalid. But its decision didn’t rule out the possibility of having a pro-life amendment. This is because Querétaro claimed violations in the legislative process that amended the constitution. As a result, the court explicitly mentioned that the state could repair the legislative process and pass the amendment correctly. Such an amendment would protect the right to life of the unborn.

This was a major pro-life victory because only one out of the five amendments was struck down. ADF International filed a legal brief with the court for all three Constitutional Controversies. It explained that no “right to abortion” exists in international law, and that Mexico is therefore obliged to respect international human rights treaties, as these have been at Mexico’s Constitutional level (according to Article 1) since June 2011.

Our Role in the Case

ADF International filed a legal brief with the court for all three cases.

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