Mexico's supreme court to rule in abortion fight

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A fight over abortion between Mexico’s federal government and the capital’s leftist lawmakers goes to the Supreme Court next week, with the attorney general urging judges to reinstate a ban on women terminating pregnancies on demand.

The Catholic Church, a powerful force in the world’s second-biggest Catholic country, backs the federal government’s call to overturn a 2007 law allowing abortions in Mexico City.

But the capital’s administration, headed by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, says women have a right to safe abortions rather than risking their lives in unhygienic back-street clinics.

One of the court’s 11 judges, Salvador Aguirre, has already submitted a ruling which says the Mexico City law is unconstitutional.

“The right to life recognized by the constitution remains protected from the moment of conception,” Aguirre wrote.

But seven more judges will need to back Aguirre’s decision in order to overturn the law, which legalized abortions during the first trimester and established free public clinics that have provided more than 12,000 abortions since the statute was approved in April, 2007.

While conservative President Felipe Calderon has largely stayed on the sidelines of the dispute, his attorney-general’s office and the National Human Rights Commission filed a legal challenge against the law shortly after it was approved.

The Mexico City government has said it is confident its law will be upheld, as many of the Supreme Court’s members previously upheld the legalization of abortion for special circumstances, such as when the fetus has defects.

“The issue of women’s rights is the core of our argument,” said Leticia Bonifaz, chief legal counsel of Mexico City.

Legal experts said the decision will determine whether other states could follow Mexico City in legalizing abortion.

“This may be the most important decision in the entire history of the court, in terms of people’s rights,” said Miguel Carbonell, an expert in constitutional law the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM.

Judges will meet on Monday and a final decision could come within a week.

The Supreme Court has played an increasingly important role as national arbiter since the end of one-party rule in 2000, when Calderon’s conservative party first came to power.

Ebrard, who is grooming himself for a possible presidential bid in 2012, has supported a series of measures that have angered church leaders, including gay civil unions and a statute allowing the terminally ill to refuse treatment.

Editing by Anthony Boadle