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Supreme Court, abortion… sound familiar?

25 August 2008

Just as in the United States,  every time an abortion case comes before the Supreme Court, the pundits and experts all start reading the tea leaves over what the justices might do.  This latest case seeks to roll back last year’s changes in the Federal District that depenalized abortion in the first trimester

Seven years ago, the Supreme Court approved the then-new Federal District law that allowed abortions in very strict circumstances — when a child would be born with congenital deformities that made its survival unlikely, or when the mother’s pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.  A few states also allow abortion when the family already has several children and another child would be an economic hardship.  The more liberal law has not been tested by the court.

The “Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion” has eleven “Ministers”, appointed by the Senate.  As in the United States, the Ministers have a life-time appointment, but unlike the United States, they elects among themselves the “Presidente” or Chief Justice, who serves a three year term, and may be re-elected.   Two previous Presidentes are presently on the court.

In the Mexican Supreme Court, a single judge is tasked with writing a brief recommending a finding, which is then discussed and voted on in an open session… which is televised and distributed on cable television, by the way.  The U.S. Supreme Court still does not allow cameras in its chambers, and deliberates behind closed doors.   Recommending that the new law — and the old Federal District law be rolled back to the previous federal legislation (which penalizes the woman seeking an abortion with three months in jail) — is Sergio Salvador Aguirre Anguiano.

Minister Aguirre, who has been on the Court since 1995, unlike the other Ministers who are mostly legal scholars or worked as government lawyers, had a political career in his native Jalisco, is a graduate of the Opus Dei influenced Autonomous University of Guadalajara, and had little experience outside his native state.  While one other Minister was educated in a Catholic university (José de Jesús Gudiño Pelayo, a graduate of the Jesuit Universidad Iberoamerica), he too made his career in public service, and was a professor in the state universities throughout the country.  Several of the Ministers have done graduate work, or taught, abroad — in Spain, England and the United States.

It isn’t expected that Minister Aguirre will be able to convince more than two, and maybe three other justices to accept his arguments.  The specific legal issue is whether the Federal District Assembly has the legal authority to write health code issues, but the justices are complaining publicly that the 610 documents presented to the court (along with testimony form the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Human Rights Commission, both in support of Aguirre’s position) covers areas outside the law, going into matters of psychology, morals and philosophy and is “too much information” for their deliberations.

Bringing the case to court may backfire for the anti-abortion forces.  Should the law be upheld (and I predict it will, by 8-3 or 7-4), several State Legislatures may introduce their own liberalized abortion laws.

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