Mexican pro-lifers were elated when the Vera Cruz amended its state constitution last month to protect life from the moment of conception, joining 16 other Mexican states. The vote set the stage for a possible amendment to the federal constitution: under Mexico’s constitution, approval by a majority of the 32 state legislatures and two-thirds of the bicameral Congress is a prerequisite for any federal amendment.
Mexican abortion advocates who cheered last year’s limited Supreme Court decision upholding a liberalized Mexico City law did not foresee such a popular reaction in favor of life. The court there had deferred to the legislature while declining to hold that abortion is a constitutional right.
Nor is Mexico’s experience unique – it is consistent with a string of victories in favor of life this past year around the globe that has heartened defenders of the unborn. These victories undercut the argument that a liberalized "customary" global norm on abortion is evolving.
First and foremost was this summer’s successful reform of the Dominican Republic’s constitution , which now declares that "the right to life is inviolable from conception until death." The nation also tightened its penal law protection of unborn life.
East Timor’s parliament likewise rejected a liberalized abortion law in June, passing instead a very tight law recognizing that life "from the moment of conception" is entitled to protection.
Honduras’ legislature passed a law banning use of "emergency contraception," the high-hormone "morning after" pill, over concern that it may function as an abortifacient by preventing implantation.
The Constitutional Court of Peru similarly found due to the morning after pill’s possible abortifacient effects, the drug could not be distributed in public health facilities. Both Peru’s and Honduras’ constitutions protect pre-natal life.
Concern over demographic collapse has spurred South Korea to stop turning a blind eye to violations of its abortion law. And at this year’s United Nations Commission on Population and Development meeting, Japan and Russia issued strong pro-natalist statements, reflecting similar concerns.
Abortion advocates have long argued that abortion liberalization is an unstoppable global trend. An article last year by Reed Boland and Laura Katzive which made such a claim now looks in need of revision. Critics contend their case was overstated to begin with: while acknowledging that Nicaragua and El Salvador had passed laws banning abortion, the article downplayed evident countertrends to liberalization in countries such as Poland and the United States, where the Supreme Court upheld a partial-birth abortion ban.
Not wishing to overstate matters themselves, some Mexican pro-lifers, though buoyed by the state-level developments, caution that congressional support may not be sufficient for a federal amendment. They also note that the Supreme Court has yet to rule on a challenge to Baja California’s state amendment.
Other Latin American commentators warn that Uruguayan voters recently replaced outgoing pro-life socialist President Tabaré Vázquez, who had defied his party by vetoing a bill liberalizing abortion, with another socialist who lacks Vazquez’ principled commitment to life at all its stages.
On balance, however, the trend toward protection of life this past year has been marked.