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Abortion rights gain ground in Latin America

Mexico City is voting Tuesday on a bill that would legalize abortion.

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Mexican bishops have threatened legislators, doctors, and women with excommunication. But on Tuesday, the Mexico City assembly is expected to pass a new law legalizing abortions.

If it does, it would put the capital of the world's second largest Catholic nation in the same league with Cuba and Guyana – the only countries in conservative Latin America that allow abortions in the first trimester, as the US does.

A similar bill has been introduced in Mexico's national legislature. If the relaxed abortion laws pass, they would mirror a similar move by Colombia toward partial legalization. Only in increasingly evangelical Christian Nicaragua has the abortion law become stricter. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated which countries have moved toward partial legalization of abortion.]

"We think it's possible this initiative [in Mexico City] could be replicated across the country," says Fernanda Diazdeleon, a lawyer with the nonprofit Information Group on Reproductive Choice in Mexico City.

Yet where Ms. Diazdeleon sees a new panorama for women's rights, Jorge Serrano Limon, the head of the antiabortion group Provida, sees the potential for a country he hardly recognizes. "Today it's abortion; tomorrow it's euthanasia," he says. "It will be a chain that denigrates Mexican society."

Indeed, the country has seen the liberalization of a spate of controversial social issues in recent weeks. Mexico City began offering same-sex unions in March; the northern state of Coahuila pioneered it in January. On April 12, the Senate began discussing the legalization of euthanasia. And the Supreme Court ruled in February that soldiers who are HIV-positive cannot be expelled from the military. But the abortion debate has sparked the loudest outcry – and underscored the weakening influence of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the rural-urban divide in the country.


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