Mexico’s abortion access serves as vital example to U.S., state lawmakers say

State Sen. Gonzales joins progressive group on trip to America’s neighbor to the south

By: - June 8, 2022 5:00 am
Julie Gonzales

From left: New Mexico state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, New Mexico state Sen. Linda Lopez, Texas state Rep. Erin Zweiner, Mexico Sen. Cora Cecilia Pinedo Alonso, Mexico Sen. Nuvia Magdalena Mayorga Delgado, North Carolina state Rep. Julie von Haefen, Mexico Sen. Patricia Mercado, Colorado state Sen. Julie Gonzales and Mexican Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero pose for a photo in Mexico City in May 2022. (Sari Soffer/Courtesy of State Innovation Exchange)

With dozens of state-level abortion restrictions already in effect, and more set to kick in if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, elected officials across the U.S. are looking to Mexico as an example in the fight to protect and expand abortion access.

Six Democratic state lawmakers from various states, including Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, traveled to Mexico late last month to learn about abortion care in the country, making stops in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey to meet with abortion providers, activists and politicians. While legal access to abortion varies state by state in Mexico, the country’s Supreme Court ruled in September that criminalizing the procedure was unconstitutional — a major victory for reproductive rights advocates.

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In parts of Mexico, abortion care is “free and provided by the government,” said Jennifer Driver, senior director of reproductive rights at the State Innovation Exchange, which hosted, facilitated and funded the trip along with the Women’s Equality Center. Driver spoke during a virtual news conference Tuesday where lawmakers discussed their takeaways from the trip.

Colorado has led the nation in ensuring abortion access, Gonzales said, starting with the state’s 1967 law allowing some abortions. The first-of-its-kind law was passed six years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that protected access to abortion everywhere in the U.S. This year, the Colorado General Assembly passed House Bill 22-1279, which codified in state law the right to either obtain an abortion or keep a pregnancy. Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill — sponsored by Rep. Meg Froelich of Englewood, Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo and Gonzales, all Democrats — into law in April.

Landmark bill affirming abortion rights signed into law by Colorado Gov. Polis

“We did that because we know that Roe was never enough,” Gonzales said, “but we should — regardless of what the Supreme Court decides — we should do everything in our power as state legislators” to protect access to abortion.

During a stop in Mexico City, Gonzales and other state lawmakers met with members of the Mexican Senate, including Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero. Gonzales noted that some of the Mexican lawmakers they spoke with “long have looked to the United States as a beacon” on abortion rights. Now, “Mexico is actually leading in a way that we as the United States have a lot to learn from,” she said. “I found that to be a really powerful part of our trip and conversation.”

Colorado lawmakers are looking at ways to further protect and expand abortion access, Gonzales said, including a constitutional amendment codifying abortion rights, which would require a vote of the people. As new bans force people from states like Texas — where a measure outlawing abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy took effect last year — to travel elsewhere for procedures, Colorado lawmakers want to make sure abortion providers have the resources to treat the influx of patients, Gonzales added.

Gonzales said the trip also helped her appreciate the safety and efficacy of medication abortion, which the “Mexican model really honed in on” as a solution for improving access.

To Colorado’s south, New Mexico recently repealed a decades-old abortion ban that could have taken effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. State Sen. Linda Lopez of New Mexico said lawmakers are currently considering whether and how to affirmatively protect abortion rights in state law. Unlike in Colorado, abortion procedures in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid, Lopez noted.

Like Colorado, New Mexico is “able, ready and willing to help our neighbors across many different states,” said Lopez, who also took part in the Mexico trip.

Mexico is actually leading in a way that we as the United States have a lot to learn from ... I found that to be a really powerful part of our trip and conversation.

– State Sen. Julie Gonzales

When the Supreme Court declined to stop Senate Bill 8, Texas’ six-week abortion ban, from taking effect last August, providers and advocates estimated it would affect at least 85% of abortion procedures there, the Texas Tribune reported at the time. Months later, a leaked draft opinion showed the conservative-majority court poised to overturn its decision in Roe v. Wade. Such a decision would be certain or likely to trigger abortion bans in 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which works to protect and expand reproductive rights.

State Rep. Erin Zweiner called her home of Texas “the first state to lose the protection of Roe v. Wade.” Zweiner said the trip to Mexico made her aware that for people seeking abortion procedures outside of Texas, the country “has been a viable option for certainly longer than I had realized.”

Now, Zweiner noted, Texans seeking abortion procedures face a significant new challenge. Oklahoma passed its own law last month banning almost all abortions from the moment of fertilization.

“Forty-five percent of Texans seeking abortion care in the first six months of SB 8 being in effect went to Oklahoma,” Zweiner said. “(With) the number of states that are moving towards an abortion ban, I think we’re going to see just an ongoing domino effect.”

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Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:20 a.m. June 8, 2022, to clarify that the state lawmakers on the Mexico trip were from various states. It was updated again at 7:20 a.m. June 8, 2022, to clarify the funders of the trip.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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