Controversy over Separation of Church and State Resurfaces after Cardinal Claims Vatican Influenced Supreme Court Vote on Abortion

By Navarro, Carlos | SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, October 6, 2011 | Go to article overview

Controversy over Separation of Church and State Resurfaces after Cardinal Claims Vatican Influenced Supreme Court Vote on Abortion


Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico


Seven of the court's justices deemed the provisions incompatible with the federal Constitution, but the SJCN fell short of the eight votes needed to force changes to the two states' laws.

Justices Jose Ramon Cossio, Sergio Valls, Arturo Zaldivar, Olga Sanchez Cordero, Luis Maria Aguilar, Fernando Franco, and Juan Silva Meza voted to consider both states' measures unconstitutional. But they were unable to convince one of the four other SCJN members--Justices Jorge Pardo Rebolledo, Salvador Aguirre Anguiano, Margarita Luna Ramos, and Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia--to cross over to gain the eight-vote total needed to overturn the state constitutional provisions.

In the aftermath of the SCJN decision regarding Baja California, which the court considered first, Bishop Isidro Guerrero Macias of Mexicali boasted that a call from the Vatican was able to sway one of the judges who was thinking of voting the other way. "Yesterday, we almost lost," said Guerrero Macias. "But a call from the pope to one of the justices, I don't know which one, changed everything."

Bishops, Vatican deny there was interference

The very suggestion that the Vatican would interfere in Mexican judicial decisions unleashed a storm of controversy in Mexico, forcing both the Vatican and Mexico's Catholic bishops conference (Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano, CEM) to issue strong statements denying any direct influence from Rome on this vote. Jorge Camargo, a SCJN spokesperson, also denied that any call was made from Rome to a member of the high court.

"There is no truth to that statement," said Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi. "We have to ask the bishop where he obtained that information."

"We concur with the statements of the Vatican spokesperson when he said that the comments from Mexicali Bishop Isidro Guerrero Macias are inaccurate," said a communique signed by CEM secretary general Victor Rene Rodriguez Gomez. "We are very cognizant that the Holy Father is always respectful of the internal affairs of countries ... and did not intervene in the decision of the SCJN ministers."

All three were appointees of President Felipe Calderon, whose conservative Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) is often in step with Catholic Church positions.

The two cases, which were considered separately, served as a measuring stick on the state of Mexico's policies regarding abortion rights. More than half of Mexico's states have enacted laws similar to those in Baja California and San Luis Potosi. Those states are Tamaulipas, Chiapas, Veracruz, Queretaro, Chihuahua, Campeche, Colima, Puebla, Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, Quintana Roo, Guanajuato, Yucatan, Sonora, Morelos, and Oaxaca.

There was ample debate among the justices, who discussed the issue during three days of deliberation. "Criminalizing the interruption of a pregnancy in all cases. is disproportionate and unreasonable, while at the same time violating women's dignity and autonomy," said Justice Fernando Franco, who led the effort to overturn the state laws.

Justice Zaldivar took a similar stance, suggesting that forcing women, especially those who are poor, to seek clandestine abortions or to face imprisonment for having the procedure was "profoundly unfair, profoundly immoral, and profoundly unconstitutional."

Other justices countered with the argument that state legislatures are empowered to include language in their constitutions that stipulates when life begins. "There is no human being who was not conceived. An embryo dies without the mother dying, evidence of an independent life to which Mexican law has recognized the right of protection since the 19th century," said Justice Aguirre Anguiano.

Justice Luna Ramos, who voted with the minority, said she supports the right of states to allow abortions but also their right to determine when life begins.

Supporters of abortion rights said there was a silver lining in the SCJN vote, even though the high court did not overturn the constitutional provision in the two states. …

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