Mexico's federal Heath Ministry made a small but significant change to its regulations Wednesday, making it easier for a woman to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy that is the product of rape.
Laws relating to abortion are the purview of state-level officials. However, abortion is legal throughout the country in cases of rape.
The National Advisory Committee on Standardization of Disease Prevention and Control changed Official Mexican Standard 046, known as NOM-046, which dictates how a legal abortion may be performed in Mexico.
Whereas women were previously required to get judicial consent, the new regulation eliminates that requirement.
NOM-046 was the product of a drawn out case that went all the way to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. That case dealt with the barriers experienced by a 13-year-old girl who was denied an abortion despite the fact that the circumstances of her pregnancy met the legal requirements.
In 2006, the Mexican state agreed to outline the legal requirements and obligations for the state, doctors, and women seeking to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.
The change to the regulation must be published in the country's official gazette before it will come into effect.
Mexico City is currently the only jurisdiction in Mexico where a woman may elect to end her pregnancy under any circumstance, up to twelve weeks into the pregnancy. Many other states have strict restrictions, with some having state constitutions that define life as starting at conception.
The emergence of the Zika virus and its alleged connection to fetal health issues, specifically microcephaly — a brain defect that causes abnormally small heads in newborns — has opened a debate throughout Latin America regarding the legality of abortion.
Throughout much of the region, abortion is heavily restricted or illegal.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has called on countries with the Zika virus to make sexual and reproductive health counseling available to women and to uphold their right to terminate pregnancies.
Pope Francis recently said that contraception may be morally permissible in areas affected by the Zika virus, but maintained that the Catholic Church views abortion as "evil."