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Federal District Assembly approves abortion law

24 April 2007

The only surprise in today’s passage of Mexico City’s abortion bill was a last minute change from the original proposition (from Alternativa and PRI bills).  The original bills simply did away with criminal penalties for abortions up to 12 weeks gestation.  The PRD late last week substituted a new version, which defines penalties for abortions AFTER 12 weeks gestation.  The substitute bill lowers the penalties to seeking an abortion after 13 weeks to three months imprisonment or 180 hours community service.

That’s more than a slightly cosmetic change.  The original bill decriminalized abortions by creating a legal exception if the abortion was needed to avoid “interruptions in life plans”.  Which meant the legislature could later define “life plans” narrowly and restrict abortions at a later time.  By limiting criminal penalties to abortions performed at more than 12 weeks gestation, the way is open to lessen the penalties (under the proposal, up to 3 months imprisonment or 180 hours of community service), or expand the exceptions into the second trimester.  As it is, Mexico City is revising the penal code anyway.  Some of the “reservations” would require setting up an advisory committee to discuss abortions with patients, but these are minor tweaks of what’s now a done deal, giving the Federal District a less restrictive abortion law than some parts of the United States. 

Before we start reading “In a 90 percent Catholic country…” stories from the U.S. based wire services, I’ll post a quick translation from Alberto Cuenca’s report in today’s El Universal:

The Federal District Legislature (ALDF for its initials in Spanish) approved, IN GENERAL, reforms to the Penal Code which will decriminalize interrupting a pregnancy during the first 12 weeks of gestation.

46 votes, from PRD, PRI, Nueva Aliaza and the Social-Democratic Alliance (Alternativa, Workers Party and Convergencia) voted in favor the bill. The 17 PAN legislators and two Green Party members voted against, and one PRI member, Martín Olavarrieta, abstained.

HOWEVER, PAN, Green, Nueva Alianza and PRD submitted nine separate “reservations” — proposed amendments to specific items in the bill – and six additions to the Health Code.

Paula Soto (PAN) registered her objections to specific changes in Article 144 of the Penal Code, which change the penalties for interrupting a pregnancy after 12 weeks gestation.

Discussion and voting on the reform was marked by prayers, vigils, music and protests in the streets surrounding the Legislative Assembly.

During the debate, the Assembly rejected a motion by PAN to suspend discussion and return the bill to committee.

Duelling Placards

At the beginning of today’s session, PRD deputies raised small signs reading “Legal Abortion, Not Death (of women)” at their desks. PAN delegates started a “war of placards,” making their own signs, with messages like “Adoption is the option.”

Also at the start of the session, two messages from the Commission on Governance were read, asking that abortion be put to referendum. l

The supporting cast

Minutes after 11 A.M., everything was ready for the vote. As soon as 50 assembly members were present, it was announced that there was a quorum and the session would begin.

The Assembly’s Internet page transmitted live, though initially only showed the outside room and the speaker’s podium. For the next several hours, hundreds of people in the streets protested for and against decriminazation.

A few meters away, at the Juárez Hemicycle (in Alameda Park), PRD supporters set up giant screens for a live broadcast of the historic vote.

Since Monday night, religious groups had been stationed in front of the assembly, to pray and to attempt to sway the legislators. A Christian rock group entertained the younger members of the crowd, and urged people to stay throughout the night.

Metal barriers and security perimeters were placed around the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Nation Palace, the Legislative Assembly and the Juárez Hemicycle.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 25 April 2007 6:38 am


    I’m a producer on radio programme World Have Your Say on the BBC’s World Service.

    World Have Your Say is an interactive and phone-in programme which gives our audience the chance to talk about the issues that matter to them. On this evening’s programme we will be talking about the legalisation of abortion in Mexico, and having read your blog, I was wondering if you would like to contribute in some way?

    You can share your thoughts in a number of ways, whichever suits you best.

    Via our blog:

    Your can email us at

    You can also phone us on ++44 (the country code for the UK) 20 70 83 72 72

    Or text us ++44 77 86 20 60 80

    Thanks for your time. We look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Anna McGovern

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