Image: Mexico City abortion
Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP
A doll representing a fetus, right, and crosses laid out by anti-abortion activists sit at Mexico City's central Zocalo square during a protest against the legalization of abortion on Wednesday. Signs next to the doll read in Spanish, " I want to live" and "Vote for me, vote for life."
updated 8/28/2008 4:59:30 PM ET 2008-08-28T20:59:30

Mexico's Supreme Court voted 8-3 Thursday to uphold legal abortion in the capital, opening the possibility that similar measures could be adopted elsewhere in Mexico — and perhaps beyond.

But conservative President Felipe Calderon, whose administration appealed the Mexico City law to the Supreme Court, is unlikely to stop fighting efforts to expand the availability of abortions.

Even with the Supreme Court's approval, pro-abortion groups complain that many doctors refuse to do the procedure in Mexico City. Some are morally opposed, while others fear public scorn or the wrath of the country's powerful Roman Catholic Church.

The church blasted the court on Thursday, declaring itself in mourning and issuing a statement that church leaders would redouble their efforts to campaign on behalf of "the millions of children who are being sacrificed."

About a dozen riot police blocked off the street leading to the court as the decision was announced, guarding against disturbances.

Jorge Serrano, director of the anti-abortion group Pro-Vida, called the ruling "a betrayal of the right to life."

"This tragedy we are living in Mexico City is going to spread to other states," he said.

Abortion rights activist Raffaella Schiavon greeted the decision.

"It opens the road for all of Latin America to start visualizing legal paths to abortion," said Schiavon, who directs the international abortion rights group Ipas and has been advising the city government.

Abortions legalized last year
Leftist Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard called the ruling "a triumph of reason over prejudice."

Last year, his government legalized abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But the federal Attorney General's Office and National Human Rights Commission took the law to the Supreme Court, arguing the city can't make health laws.

Justice Guillermo Ortiz said the court was simply saying that it was constitutional for Mexico City to legalize abortion.

"It's not up to the Supreme Court to legalize or criminalize abortion," he said.

The law applies only to public hospitals in Mexico City and does not require doctors in federal hospitals or private clinics to perform abortions. It also allows doctors with moral objections to refuse to do the procedure.

Abortions continued, despite the appeal, with more than 12,000 women seeking them at 14 Mexico City hospitals, according to the city health department. Schiavon said 20 percent of those were Mexicans who live outside the capital.

Elsewhere in Mexico, abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, when the mother's life is in danger or if the fetus has severe deformities.

That is standard across the Americas, where only Cuba, Guyana, Canada and the United States allow abortions without restrictions in the first trimester.

Nicaragua banned abortion in all cases in 2006.

Some doctors refuse procedure
Before the law, many women in Mexico who wanted to terminate a pregnancy would drink an herbal tea designed to induce abortion or seek out someone who could carry out a crude, home version of the procedure.

While many doctors refuse to perform abortions, Schiavon said the city has tried to make the procedure accessible by creating a hot line for women and opening counseling centers in hospitals.

Dr. Francisco Hernandez, who has been a gynecologist in Mexico City for 52 years, said he's been asked five times to perform an abortion, but refused.

"I offered those women free prenatal checkups and a free birth, and then I told them they could wring the child's neck themselves," he said.

At a Mexico City abortion clinic Thursday, officials refused to talk to the press and two security guards stood at the door. No one appeared to be going in or out of the clinic for an abortion, but a long line of people, mainly women, collected government vouchers for free school supplies for their children.

Nearby, two protesters set up a framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe and invited people to pray with them to stop abortion.

Brenda Velez, 38, said she visits the clinic four times a week to recite the rosary.

"They are just encouraging women to be dirty and loose," she said. "The justices' decision is only going to spread more irresponsible behavior."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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