Activists in Mexico have applauded a Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion, claiming that it will put an end to the legal prosecution of women who terminate their pregnancies – as well as those who report miscarriages to authorities.

The unanimous decision, issued on Tuesday, declared that criminal penalties for abortion in the northern state of Coahuila were unconstitutional. According to abortion lawyers, the decision sets a precedent that will be followed across the country. The decision comes just days after the US Supreme Court refused to overturn Texas’ near-total abortion ban, sparking speculation that women in the US state may travel across the border to seek abortions.

On Wednesday, the governor of one Mexican state declared that all women imprisoned for having abortions would be released.

In a statement, Coahuila Governor Miguel Riquelme said, “the resolution will have retroactive effects, and any woman deprived of her freedom for the crime of abortion must be released immediately.” A government spokesperson was unsure how many women would be released, while a local activist said she was unaware of any women imprisoned in the state for abortion in the previous 25 years.

However, activists and lawyers believe the ruling will result in a shift in legal culture and fewer criminal investigations because the justices based their decision on human rights arguments and a woman’s right to choose rather than legal technicalities.

“In reality, women are not tried for abortion. “Women are charged with homicide,” said Karla Michelle Salas, an attorney who represents women accused of abortion-related crimes.  “What prosecutors do, especially in the most conservative states,” Salas explained, is charge women with homicide.

Salas represented Dafne McPherson, a woman from Querétaro state, who had a miscarriage in the bathroom of the department store where she worked. McPherson was charged with abortion and then homicide. She was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but was released after three years on appeal.

Salas explained that many states responded to the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City in 2007 by enacting constitutional amendments declaring that “life begins at conception” – and then charging people for it. The Supreme Court of Mexico is expected to rule soon on state-level constitutional amendments.

According to a GIRE, a reproductive rights organization, analysis in the magazine Nexos, the court will debate a motion from justice Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena, which proposes that “states cannot use the existence clauses (proclaiming) protection of life from conception as a pretext to deny people all types of services related to sexual and reproductive health.”

In the last two years, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Hidalgo have followed Mexico City’s lead and decriminalized abortion, but activists claim that elective abortions are still difficult to obtain in those states because medical workers refuse to make the procedure available.

“That’s where we have issues: it’s in the law, but they continue not to provide public services because they prioritize conscientious objections over everything else,” said Verónica Cruz, founder of Las Libres, a nongovernmental organization in Guanajuato state that has worked to free women imprisoned for miscarriages and abortions.

According to the court’s press office, the issue of conscientious objections will be discussed by the Supreme Court on Thursday.

“Abortion services have always existed, but they are selective,” Cruz explained, explaining that wealthy women pay for illegal abortions or travel to places where they are legal. Others buy misoprostol, which is cheap and available without a prescription in Mexico, and abort at home, often with the help of collectives that assist women in the procedure.

Cruz stated that women are still imprisoned for abortion, but that “the government itself does not know where these women are” due to Mexico’s “disaster” public records system.

Activists believe women may travel from Texas – where new laws restrict abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy – to neighboring Coahuila, where medical tourism is common. However, some saw irony in the situation.