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Human rights activists in Mexico have hailed a landmark ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that decriminalizes abortion, but warned that the landmark ruling will not automatically make abortion available to all Mexican women.

Wednesday’s unanimous decision removed federal criminal penalties related to abortion — but not the many local laws banning the procedure, which remain in effect in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Senator Olga Sánchez Cordero, a former Supreme Court justice, tweeted that the decision showed that Mexico was moving towards “a more just society, in which the rights of all are respected”.

Employees of public healthcare facilities will no longer have to worry about federal penalties for performing an abortion, and the ruling should provide pro-choice activists with a powerful precedent as they continue their state-by-state campaign to cancel restrictions.

But campaigners have warned that many medical facilities and workers are likely to continue to refuse to terminate a pregnancy – sometimes in all cases, and sometimes if the woman is unable to prove she has not. ways to care for a child.

“Even though it’s a big problem, it could still be very difficult for people to have an abortion. In some places they will probably continue to deny access to women, for many different reasons, and this will be visible when women come in and attempt to have abortions and are turned away. We will have to see if the effect is immediate or if this decision really only affects the penal system,” said Tyler Mattiace, Mexico researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mexico’s congress will also need to pass a resolution to remove abortion from the country’s penal code for legalization to become a reality.

Marina Reyna, director of the Guerrero Association Against Violence Against Women, warned that many challenges would persist. Guerrero decriminalized abortion last year, but 22 investigations against women accused of terminating their pregnancies remain open. “There’s still a lot of resistance,” Reyna told The Associated Press.

The ruling — and potential backlash — reflects a battle for women’s rights being waged across Latin America, where dramatic moves by courts and legislatures have at times met with persistent resistance from local governments and communities. members of the medical profession.

Argentina and Colombia legalized abortion in 2020 and 2022, scoring major victories in the region’s “green tide” of feminist activism. But these gains rest on shaky ground, as leaders and right-wing movements seek to reverse them.

In Argentina, far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei has pledged to remove the right to reproductive health care if elected. In Chile, where abortion was partially decriminalized in 2017, far-right groups have pledged to roll back the right to choose.

In most of Latin America, abortion remains illegal or limited to emergencies that endanger the mother’s life. Even in countries where abortion is legal, access to pills or a procedure can be unequal, especially in rural areas.

Dr Anu Kumar, director of IPAS, an international reproductive health organization, said the Mexican court ruling had the potential to serve as an important example in the region – if there is political will to ensure the access to abortion on the ground. .

“After the decision to repeal the right to abortion in the United States last year, we saw anti-rights groups emboldened in Latin America, which has always been fertile ground for anti-rights movements. , and there is clearly active opposition to abortion rights. in Mexico,” she said.

But she added that major challenges remained: “Mexico has a very fragmented and complex health system, and bureaucracy can be difficult to move around. They can afford to move fairly quickly to expand access, but only if they have the will to do so – and that remains to be seen.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Morras Help Morras, an organization that helps Mexican women find abortion care, posted that medications used for abortion procedures can still be obtained without a prescription: “We want to remind everyone women and all people who can give birth that they can safely abort by buying misoprostol pills for 500 pesos.