By a vote of 8 to 3, the Supreme Court of Mexico recently affirmed the federal district of Mexico City’s right to legalize abortion, confirming that the legal status of the procedure can be determined at the state level. In effect since April 2007, the Mexico City law allows providers to offer first-trimester abortions without restriction. Outside of the capital city, abortion is permitted only in particular cases, such as rape or to save the life of the mother, as determined by state. Mexico City’s law is one of the most liberal in Latin America.

Abortion rates have little to do with the legal status of abortion, according to evidence from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. In 2003, abortion rates were roughly equal in developed regions (26 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age) and developing regions (29 abortions per 1,000 women), despite abortion being largely illegal in developing regions.

Health consequences, however, vary greatly depending on the legal status of the procedure: Abortion is generally safe where it is broadly legal and mostly unsafe where restricted. Legalizing abortion is a necessary, but not sufficient, first step for making abortion safer; the procedure must also be performed by trained providers at appropriate facilities.

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Declining abortion rates worldwide

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