Mexico City moving to legalize abortion

Mexico City, Mexico - Mexico City is preparing to legalize abortion -- the first region to do so in heavily Roman Catholic Mexico -- a move the influential church has vowed to challenge.

A bill that would allow abortions in the first three months of pregnancy is making its way through the capital city's assembly, and supporters say they have well more than the majority needed to pass it despite threats of protests by the Catholic Church. The measure is expected to pass within months, and the first legal abortions could happen later this year.

"No church, no religion can impose its vision of the world in this city," said assembly leader Victor Hugo Cirigo, whose leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution runs City Hall and holds 34 of 66 city legislative seats.

The assembly battled with the Catholic Church in December, allowing gay civil unions to begin in Mexico City on Friday. The northern state of Coahuila followed suit and already has begun allowing such ceremonies, holding its first in January.

Special laws in Mexico City already permit abortion when a mother's life is threatened, but the rest of the country allows it only in case of rape, said Maria Luisa Sanchez, president of leading Mexican abortion rights group GIRE.

Religious leaders say they will try to block the proposed law. They threaten a constitutional challenge and a mass street protest that could become a political movement.

"If the assembly can't be the city's conscience, we will have to form our own party to represent us," said Armando Martinez, speaking for the country's Catholic Archdiocese.

Conservative President Felipe Calderon is an outspoken Catholic, and his ruling National Action Party has traditionally Catholic roots, but Mexico City's local government has been run by leftists since 1997. City Hall and the local assembly have often taken a more liberal stance toward religion.

Women seeking abortions currently have to use clandestine clinics, with the poorest relying on back-street practitioners working out of unhygienic premises, with often deadly results.

Cirigo's party expects another fight with the Catholic Church when it pushes for the legalization of euthanasia.