In a lopsided ruling, Mexico's supreme court on Thursday upheld a year-old law in Mexico City legalizing abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The court rejected arguments by abortion opponents that the law violates the Mexican constitution, whose protections they said covered embryos. A majority of justices said that overturning the law would block the right of women to end pregnancies in the earliest weeks.
The vote was 8-3 to uphold the measure, approved in April 2007 by the city's leftist-dominated government.
The decision figures to encourage similar legislative drives outside the capital, where abortion remains illegal, except in certain cases, such as rape or incest.
Pro-choice activists said the ruling sets a precedent for state legislatures. The Democratic Revolution Party, which governs Mexico City, has signaled plans to push for measures legalizing abortion.
The ruling was a defeat for the nation's Roman Catholic Church and the conservative National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon, which were vocal critics of the law. The federal attorney general's office and Mexico's human-rights commission lodged the formal challenge.
The ruling, following six public hearings since April, pleased abortion-rights advocates in a heavily Catholic nation. Mexico City is among the few places in Latin America where women can legally terminate pregnancies apart from rape and incest cases.
“It's historic, with a huge impact on women's rights, not only in Mexico but throughout Latin America,” said Maria Consuelo Mejia, who heads a group of pro-choice Catholics here.
Jorge Serrano Limon, who directs Pro Vida, an anti-abortion group, called the decision “a real tragedy.”
“The fact is that a person has no protection before 12 weeks of life,” he said. “It's going to spread across Mexico.”