April 24, 2007 / 5:22 PM / 11 years ago

Mexican capital legalizes abortion, defies church

(Recasts with abortion legalized

Anti-abortion activists face off with riot police separating them from pro-choice activists near Mexico City's local legislature during the debate and vote to decriminalize abortions up to 12 weeks of gestation, April 24, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

By Catherine Bremer and Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican capital legalized abortion on Tuesday, defying the church but delighting feminists in the world’s second-largest Roman Catholic country.

Nuns hold placards during an anti-abortion march in Mexico City April 22, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

Mexico City lawmakers voted 46 to 19 to pass a leftist-sponsored bill allowing women to abort in the first three months of pregnancy.

The abortion vote split Mexico and prompted a letter last week from Pope Benedict urging Mexican bishops to oppose it.

Riot police kept rival groups of rowdy demonstrators apart outside the city’s assembly building. Weeping anti-abortion protesters played tape recordings of babies crying and carried tiny white coffins.

Until Tuesday, only Cuba, Guyana and U.S. commonwealth Puerto Rico allowed abortion on demand in Latin America.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Church leaders threatened to excommunicate leftist deputies, mostly from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, who voted in favor of lifting the abortion ban, which will remain in force in the rest of the country.

Opinion polls show Mexico’s population of 107 million, of whom some 90 percent are Catholic, is split over abortion.

Supporters of abortion rights, who are well represented in the liberal-minded capital, say 2,000 women die each year in Mexico due to abortions, often poor women who have to resort to unhygienic back-street clinics.

“We don’t want any more women to die in clandestine abortions,” said leftist local deputy Agustin Guerrero.

The Vatican’s second-highest ranking doctrinal official, Archbishop Angelo Amato, denounced abortion and euthanasia on Monday as “terrorism with a human face.”

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