MEXICO CITY, March 11 (UPI) -- Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he wants a referendum on abortion, sparking immediate opposition from abortion rights advocates in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Mexico's 32 states consider abortions criminal unless the pregnancy results from rape or if it endangers the woman's health and life or because of fetal abnormalities. Mexico City is the country's only jurisdiction that permits a woman to abort up to 12 weeks of gestation.
The president's ruling party, Morena, has sufficient votes in Mexico's federal congress to begin a constitutional reform process to decriminalize abortion up to 12 weeks.
More than 2,000 women have been prosecuted for "interrupting a pregnancy" since 2015, according to Mexico's National System for Public Safety. In 2018, prosecutors in 28 of Mexico's 32 states opened investigations into 570 women for this reason -- the highest number of cases in four years.
But the president said he does not want his government "imposing" significant changes on Mexico's citizens without their approval, and he voiced support for a public vote.
"Any time political issues have to be decided, we are going to say, 'Let's have a democratic referendum," the president said at an event last week to mark International Women's Day.
Women's rights activists gathered in Mexico's National Palace to hear the president at the annual commemoration. The activists, who wore green handkerchiefs symbolizing the struggle for abortion rights in Latin America, rejected the president's proposal to put women's rights to a vote.
"Rights aren't imposed," the women shouted at the president, according to Mexican media. Sen. Martha Tagle, a feminist who supports abortion rights, unfurled a banner proclaiming "there's no going back on women's rights."
While the constitution bars the church from all public activities, social conservatives approve of its stance against abortion and have strengthened efforts around Mexico to prohibit the procedure. The northern state of Nuevo Leon recently reformed its constitution "to protect life from conception to natural death." Conservative legislators in the state congress of Coahuila, also in Mexico's north, said they would reject a recent proposal to decriminalize abortion.
Holding referendums on important national matters has become a feature of the president's governing style. The new administration entered office Dec. 1 and immediately held a vote that resulted in canceling already begun construction of the new Mexico City international airport.