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Render unto Caesar…

29 August 2008

[Dyslexics Untie! Yup, I’d spelled Caesar wrong… thanks, Otto]

Mexico’s Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law allowing abortion in the capital, handing a victory to leftist city lawmakers over conservative President Felipe Calderon’s government and the Roman Catholic Church. In an 8-3 vote, judges in the world’s second most-populous Catholic country said there were no grounds to overturn a law approved in 2007 by the Mexico City assembly that legalized abortions on demand during the first trimester and established free public abortion clinics.

Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia, “Minister-President” (Chief Justice) went further in reading the court’s decision, saying that the way was open to an intense and deep national debate on the issue. The court’s decision took into consideration the possibility that several states will follow the Federal District’s lead in decriminalizing abortion and in setting up state-run clinics.

Given that the narrow legal issue was the Federal District Assembly’s competence in setting health policy, the court ruling goes even further, validating the District’s right — and DUTY — to provide abortions in a safe environment AND to oversee sex education in the district. The Federal Government and the District have been at loggerheads over the Federal Secretary of Education’s reluctance to use more explicit district education department sex education texts. (The Federal Secretary of Education was refusing to use the Mexico City book, though it is distributed in District run schools, and used in other Latin American countries).

With only three ministers in support of overturning the Federal District’s abortion law (nice to know my predictions of an 8-3 ruling were correct) this is another indication that both the Catholic Church and the Calderon administration are out of step with the Mexican mainstream.

Alfredo (Citius64) wrote (my translation) last Monday that:

It seems that the catholic hierarchy is in despair over a probable failure of the Supreme Court to penalize abortion in Mexico City.  How else to explain that they paid for advertisements on all the national television networks?

And… who paid for it? The collection plate? I don’t know… they could have been underwritten by the Slim family, or one of the other wealthy families connected with the hierarchy.   Javier Flores wrote about the Church’s growing nervousness in Jornada.  According to official statistics, Mexicans are leaving the Catholic Church in torrents:  ten percent in only 30 years.  He must be on to something….

Although most gynecologists do not perform abortions — the law allows for “conscientious objectors” to practice in Federal District health facilities — and have been the largest opponents of the new regulations, U.S. style protests are unknown, nor is there the street theatrics that surrounded the original passage of the bill allowing for abortions in the first trimester. As Elizabeth Malkin and Nacha Cattan write in the The New York Times:

There is one sign of opposition at the clinic. Brenda Vélez and two assistants from the anti-abortion group Pro Vida arrive every day at 11 a.m. to say the rosary and hand out pamphlets.

But unlike the very public battle over abortion in the United States, which is played out on the streets and through the news media, the two sides here have confined much of their argument to the courtroom.

Even the powerful Catholic Church, which threatened legislators with excommunication last year if they approved the law, has muted its political rhetoric. (In the end, the church did not kick any lawmakers out because of their votes.)

There have been a few public protests as the Supreme Court’s decision approaches, but neither side has mobilized massive forces.

I don’t see official, overt anti-clericalism returning to Mexico. PAN — having started life as a clerical party — has carved out a sizable niche in Mexican political life not because of its clericalism, but because of its capitalist market-oriented policies, and its (diminishing) reputation for relative efficiency and honesty. The analogy to the Republican Party in the United States — which also has a “piety wing” (though in the United States it is made up mostly of Evangelicals, not Catholics) — is valid in many respects. In both Mexico and in the U.S., “Christian Conservatives” came into power in localities on the coattails of a popular candidate (Reagan in the U.S., Fox in Mexico) and pushed too far, too fast.  And, as with the Republicans in the United States — the pro-business people are often also the social conservatives.

While religion still plays a much larger part in U.S. politics (witness the “debate” between the two Presidential candidates in a church recently — something highly illegal in Mexico), the piety wing in PAN has been losing power since the Fox administration. PAN replaced their party chief with a leader from the secular wing, and even party leaders with ties to the piety wing (like Senate leader Santiago Creel) have lost out to people like and Felipe Calderon’s adherence to the more business-oriented wing of his party.

The Church itself is fighting a rear-guard action, and this ruling blew up in their faces, with consequences yet to be seen.

“Liberal” in Mexico has the historic meaning — as in Benito Juarez’ party — meaning an openness to the free exchange of ideas and goods — more in line with what in the U.S. is called Libertarian.   They might be “Liberal”  in the U.S. sense (pro-choice, pro-gay rights, etc.), but as PANistas, they are unlikely to push for social changes in their state legislatures.  While there are social conservatives on the left (notably gay marriage was delayed in the Federal District because of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s objections) social changes — especially less restrictive abortion laws — are much more likely to come from the PRD and PRI controlled states.

Some might be surprised I include PRI here, but remember that gay marriage became legal because the Coahuila Legislature’s PRI majority backed it, over the objections of PAN, PRD and the Greens.  The left may also want to flex their muscle and run through changes in the Federal Congress, but I’m not sure — given the fights over PEMEX and crime that are coming up — they want to take on the challenge.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 August 2008 8:25 pm

    You’re welcome 😉

    Great insight on this story, dude.


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