The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) has recognized after a heated discussion that the right to conscientious objection of health personnel is constitutional, but warns that it cannot conflict with sexual and reproductive rights or be the reason for discriminate against women and minorities. This Monday's announcement comes after two landmark decisions for sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico. First, the ministers declared unconstitutional for a woman to be imprisoned for having an abortion and then that local laws protect life from conception. With eight votes in favor, the ministers will order the Legislative branch to develop a law on conscientious objection so that it is not “a blank check with which health services are denied,particularly the right to abortion ”, said the president of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar.
The unconstitutionality action that has been put to a vote today and that has finally been invalidated, occurs after a lawsuit by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) against the reform of the General Health Law of 2018, in which It contemplates the conscientious objection of doctors and nurses in the public and private sectors. The CNDH argues that articles referring to this issue represent an obstacle to access to health, including the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights of women who want to have an abortion.
The reform of the Health Law does not legalize discrimination or endorse denying an abortion or treatment, but its application is too open to interpretation, which can be used against the rights of women, as Arturo Zaldívar has stated. “Conservative and religious groups are pressuring this Court to recognize the unlimited right to conscientious objection because they know that the right of women to have a decent abortion ends there. Recognizing a right that women have conquered by hand, so that later we allow its exercise to be bogged down and in the hands of conscientious objectors and political groups seems unacceptable, "said the Minister President, who voted against the constitutionality of conscientious objection.
However, the ministers have recognized the right of health personnel to individually refuse to comply with a legal mandate, including termination of pregnancy, due to their personal convictions. But they warn that this right cannot be exercised at any price. “Conscientious objection does not constitute an absolute or unlimited right that can be invoked in any case and under any modality. It is not a general right to disobey the laws ”, said last Monday the minister who presented the project, Luis María Aguilar.
Despite the gap that the past judgments on abortion have opened, regulation in Mexico continues to be very restrictive and there is still much work to be done at the legislative level.
“It is necessary that conscientious objection be regulated, therefore it is the obligation of the State that there be non-objector personnel so that women are not put at risk,” says Melissa Ayala, coordinator of the litigation area of the GIRE organization.
Feminist organizations point out that conscientious objection, added to the strict laws that punish abortion, create environments where women are forced to abort clandestinely or with unsafe procedures.
"The fact that conscientious objection is not well regulated and its limits are not well established can be an obstacle for women and people with the capacity to carry children," Ayala emphasizes.
Map of the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico: in 28 of 32 states it is still a crime
The Supreme Court of Mexico declares unconstitutional the protection of life from conception
In Mexico, about a million clandestine abortions are performed each year and a third of them end in medical complications, while the annual rate of hospitalizations per thousand women between 15 and 19 years of age increased from 6.1 to 9.5 between 2000 and 2010, according to government data.
Depending on each state, the penalties for abortion can range from 15 days to 6 years in prison, with fines ranging from 20 to 300 times the minimum wage.
This, in a country where 50 million women live in poverty or at risk of it.
Only so far this year, the authorities have opened 432 investigation folders in the country for abortion, according to the Secretariat of the National Public Security System.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that in Mexico more than a third of women who have an unsafe abortion have complications that require medical treatment.
However, a quarter of those women never received the hospital care they required.
The strategy of conservative and religious groups that appeal to conscientious objection and that elaborate more restrictive laws, does not stop women from continuing to abort in the country. The penalty does not stop the practice and yet it increases the risk that it will be carried out in clandestine conditions and under unsafe procedures.
This drama deepens in society when it is doctors and nurses who denounce women, even when they arrive at a hospital with an obstetric emergency.
"The authorities and health personnel of the public system condition women to confess to having caused an abortion," GIRE points out in a 2018 report. The fact that abortion is considered a crime with sanctions, also for health personnel , contributes to the stigmatization and criminalization of women in Mexico.
In Latin America, three out of every four abortions occur in unsafe conditions.
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