After Court Orders Partial Legalization
Trotskyists Call for
Free Abortion On Demand
Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The following article is translated from Revolución Permanente No. 11, October-December 2021, published by the Grupo Internacionalista, Mexican section of the League for the Fourth International.
Last September 7, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice declared “absolute criminalization” of abortion unconstitutional throughout the country. The high court invalidated Article 196 of the Penal Code of the state of Coahuila which mandated that a woman who had a voluntary abortion and all those involved in the procedure be punished with jail time. The Court also invalidated a portion of Article 198 of the same code that prohibited medical personnel from assisting women who wished to terminate their pregnancy, and of Article 199 which made abortion a crime and set the limit for terminating a pregnancy in cases of rape at 12 weeks. With the unanimous vote of the justices, this ruling applies everywhere in Mexico.
Two weeks later, on September 20, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Article 10-B of the General Health Law of the Mexican Republic, which allowed medical and nursing personnel of the National Health System to use “conscientious objection” to justify refusing to perform health procedures permitted by law. The president of the Supreme Court, Minister Arturo Zaldívar, pointed out that the “conscientious objection” clause must not be “a blank check with which to deny health services, particularly the right to abortion” (El País, 21 September 2021). Although the court invited legislators to formulate another clause that does not touch on abortion, we insist that any provision of “conscientious objection” is a religious intrusion that undermines the obligation to care for patients.
The first of these judicial decisions represents a partial decriminalization of abortion, which should be performed free of charge in public hospitals. It is an important step that will bring a sigh of relief to many women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The second, by eliminating “conscientious objection,” removes a very real barrier to carrying out abortions. However, these are limited measures: voluntary abortion will only be permitted in the first 12 weeks of gestation, while it will remain a crime in the second and third trimesters. Contrary to what many feminists have claimed, the rulings do not mean a “decriminalization of abortion” as such. The possibility of having an abortion in safe sanitary conditions without having to pay impossible sums will remain a dream for thousands of women in the context of Mexico’s dilapidated public health system.
Until this year, abortion has been considered a crime in Mexico, except in Mexico City (since 2007) and more recently in the states of Oaxaca and Colima. But according to estimates by the Observatory of Maternal Mortality in Mexico, there are between 750,000 and one million clandestine abortions each year in the country. The vast majority are performed in appalling sanitary conditions, a reflection of the poverty and lack of support for the women involved. Moreover, according to official statistics, cited by IPAS Mexico, between 2010 and 2018, 90,562 women between 10 and 40 years of age died – more than 10,000 per year – “from causes related to abortion performed in unsafe conditions.” Yet there has not been a single maternal death from abortion in Mexico City’s legal abortion services in 14 years. Abortion rights save lives.
Despite their limited nature, the recent Supreme Court rulings have been the target of attacks by reactionary anti-women’s rights groups, some of which are openly fascistic. They have marched in several cities around the country with large images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the slogan “Long live Christ the King,” the battle cry of the Cristeros who impaled and mutilated communist teachers in the 1920s and ’30s. Shouting “yes to life, no to abortion,” reactionary crowds tried to intimidate women with green bandannas1 for the decriminalization of abortion demonstrating outside the Supreme Court. The clerical-reactionary National Action Party (PAN) proclaimed its “defense of life from conception,” and the Mexican Episcopal Conference (of the country’s Catholic bishops) called to maintain the criminalization of abortion.
It is worth asking what they mean when they speak of “preserving life.” An epitome of the perspective of the “pro-life” reactionaries came from a priest in Monclova, Lázaro Hernández, who declared in his homily on September 12 that women who abort “are good for nothing.” He then asked the following question: “Why don’t we kill the mother who is not going to be good for anything either?” (La Jornada, 13 September 2021). This is by no means the first time that the Catholic Church and its henchmen have openly called for the death penalty for women who have abortions.
We communist internationalists fight for the unrestricted right to free abortion, based exclusively on the decision of the woman or other pregnant person, at any time during pregnancy and with access to medical and health care of the highest quality. We also demand full free access to contraceptive measures, including those that can terminate an incipient pregnancy. This perspective is opposed not only to that of misogynist reactionaries, but also to that of timid bourgeois reformers. Ultimately, women’s oppression is rooted in private property and class society. The liberation of women from the burden of their centuries-old oppression can only be achieved with the overthrow of capitalism and the socialization of housework. This is a necessary precondition for freeing women from the domestic slavery to which the bourgeois family condemns them, and for their full and equal integration into social labor outside the home. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!
The Mexican Supreme Court ruling does not settle the matter. After the adoption of the law partially legalizing abortion in Mexico City in 2007, there was a reactionary barrage against abortion rights across the country. Between 2008 and 2017, under the guise of “protecting life from conception on,” 17 of the 32 state legislatures responded by imposing reactionary counter-reforms prohibiting termination of pregnancy in almost all cases (except, and to a limited extent, in cases of rape or risk of death of the mother). The Court’s recent ruling could lead to the dismantling of these measures, but this battle will be fought on a state-by-state basis. Being primarily the result of decisions of the august justices, it is quite possible that they will be overturned by future federal legislatures or by new, more reactionary Supreme Court justices.
It is striking that the partial liberalization of abortion in Mexico is not coming from the bourgeois populist government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). AMLO has been silent on the matter, and has on several occasions expressed his opinion that the right to abortion should be submitted to a popular vote. In a highly religious country, this is a way of opposing this elementary democratic right of women, in this case in accordance with the evangelical Christian views of the president.
This is not an irrelevant or anecdotal matter. The bourgeois feminist movement in Mexico is divided over the bourgeois populist president. Several feminists who support his government repeat the slogan that “the Fourth Transformation (as AMLO’s government calls itself) will be feminist or it will not be”. However, there are bourgeois politicians, including PAN members, who pronounce themselves feminists and come out for the right to legal interruption of pregnancy, even if only for electoral reasons; and there is an appreciable number of “progressive” bourgeois feminists who disdain López Obrador and therefore support the opposition PRD-PAN coalition or the reactionary Movimiento Ciudadano.
Like all bourgeois politicians, AMLO upholds the family as the fundamental nucleus of society. Thus he affirms the traditional role of women as “caregivers” in the framework of the traditional family: “So, we take care, by tradition, by custom, because the Mexican family is the most important institution of social security that exists,” and that the “tradition in Mexico is that daughters are the ones who take care of the parents” (Animal Político, 25 June 2020).
The fragility of the new legal provisions in Mexico can be seen in the mirror offered on the other side of the border. In Texas, the state legislature has imposed a new abortion regulation that makes it virtually impossible for women to terminate a pregnancy. The U.S. Supreme Court, now with an insuperable majority of reactionary and ultra-reactionary justices, refused to block implementation of the Texas law that prohibits almost all abortions after the sixth week of gestation, the time when most women learn they are pregnant. According to Texas clinics, 85 to 90 percent of the abortions they perform are performed after the sixth week.
In addition, the new law encourages third parties to sue medical and health care personnel who perform abortions by promising to pay $10,000 and full restitution of legal fees if they win their lawsuits. It is feared that the Texas law and another Mississippi law could pave the way for the repeal of the Roe v. Wade ruling that effectively legalized abortion in the United States in 1973. At a New York protest against the Texas law, held on September 12 shortly after the Mexican Supreme Court ruling, our comrades of the Internationalist Group/U.S. carried a sign with the slogan, “Workers Revolution Will Return South and West Texas to a Red Mexico, Where Women Can Get an Abortion.” This, they said, would include the return of the Alamo.
Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The struggle to make abortion an effective right cannot be limited to legislative reforms, much less can it depend on decisions by the high and mighty ministers of a reactionary court set up as the unappealable arbiter of what is permissible under the bourgeois “rule of law.” In particular, the possibility of terminating an unwanted pregnancy or giving birth in safe conditions is affected by the collapse of the public health system in Mexico. Devastated after the privatization process of Seguro Popular,3 which continues to this day under the leadership of the AMLO government, the inability of this system to meet the needs of the population has been highlighted in the COVID pandemic, in which some 300,000 people have died.
Feminist groups responded to the partial decriminalization of abortion by the Supreme Court with exultant declarations, overlooking the serious limitations of its provisions. The Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (Information Group on Reproductive Choice) declared: “the highest court in the country reaffirmed reproductive autonomy,” and “We in GIRE celebrate this ruling, a reflection of a historic struggle of the feminist movement for legal, safe and free abortion.” Marea Verde (Green Tide) effusively quotes the words of Chief Justice Zaldívar, who describes his decision as “a watershed in the struggle for women’s rights.”
On the left, the Movimiento de Trabajadores Socialistas (MTS, Socialist Workers Movement), affiliated internationally with the Fracción Trotskista current, writes: “Legal Abortion in Mexico: Our Rights Are Won in the Streets” (Izquierda Diario, September 27). It affirms that the Supreme Court ruling “can be a strong point on which the women’s movement can base itself and continue to advance.” They add a hodgepodge of other demands, such as free contraceptives, “integral, non-sexist and non-heteronormative sex education,” day care centers, wage increases, canteens, laundries, etc. But all without mentioning, even inadvertently, socialist revolution, nor touching the sensitive issue of the family. Thus their program is presented as a series of reforms under capitalism.
That women are not able to make the decision to give birth or not is only one of the most odious aspects of the oppression they suffer in class societies. It is a reflection of the role assigned to women in the bourgeois family. Ultimately, women’s liberation is impossible through the reform of capitalism because it is incompatible with preserving the family and domestic slavery. The family has the function of reproducing a new generation of exploited and of transmitting the ideological poisons of nationalism, machismo and the values of submission and discipline necessary to maintain wage slavery. For the woman worker, in addition to her oppression as a woman, she faces exploitation, in addition to anti-indigenous and anti-black racism, homophobia, etc.
The Internationalist Group fights for the unrestricted right to abortion, free and on demand, as an integral part of the struggle for a revolutionary workers and peasants government which by expropriating the bourgeoisie and establishing a socialized economy would lay the material basis (24-hour day-care centers, popular restaurants and high-quality housing, an education system genuinely open to all) to overcome the reactionary institution of the family. As we wrote in 2007 regarding the partial decriminalization of abortion in what was then the Federal District:
“The liberation of women requires the abolition of private ownership of the means of production through a socialist revolution which, in turn, will establish the material conditions for genuine emancipation.”
Women’s liberation requires abolition of private property in the means of production through a socialist revolution, which in turn will establish the material conditions for genuine emancipation.
–“Mexico: For Free Abortion on Demand!” The Internationalist No. 26, July 2007
While feminists and reformists of all stripes sink into a swamp of sectoralism, we communists struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party as the champion of all the oppressed. A Bolshevik vanguard party must be a true “tribune of the people” as V.I. Lenin stressed, armed with Leon Trotsky’s program and perspective of permanent revolution. At this time, when women’s rights are under frontal attack in the heart of U.S. imperialism, the struggle for the full right to abortion in Mexico and everywhere in Latin America can be a spark to unleash a revolutionary conflagration throughout the Americas.
This is what the Grupo Internacionalista, Mexican section of the League for the Fourth International, is dedicating its efforts to. Join the struggle! ■
- 1. The green bandanna became the symbol of the Argentine feminist movement from 2018 leading up to the partial legalization of abortion there on 30 December 2020, which has had a great impact throughout Latin America.
- 2. Popular Insurance. In Mexico, free health care for the population is supposedly guaranteed by Article 4 of the Constitution. This has been undermined for decades as private clinics, hospitals and medical insurance for more affluent sectors of the population proliferated. In 2003, the government of the right-wing PAN, as part of its program of privatizations, introduced the Seguro Popular to supposedly overcome inequities in health care delivery. The new program of private insurance expanded rapidly but was rife with corruption and actually limited health care for many poor families. From 2020 on, the present government replaced the Seguro Popular with the Institute of Health and Welfare.