Pro-Choice Activists May Lose Meager Gains in Mexico City

August 28, 2008 08:54 AM
by Shannon Firth
Next week Mexico’s high court debates the capital city’s controversial law legalizing some abortions.

Abortion Law Under Review

On Monday, September 1, Mexico’s Supreme Court will begin public deliberation to decide whether a law legalizing abortion in Mexico City should be struck down. Just over a year ago, on April 24, 2007, a day pro-life activists called “Black Tuesday,” Mexico City lawmakers, backed by the Democratic Revolutionary Party, made Mexico City the largest Latin American city to legalize abortion, amid fierce debate and opposition. The law allows any woman in Mexico City to seek an abortion in her first trimester, for any reason. Yet, one year later, the International Herald Tribune reported that 85 percent of gynecologists in the city’s public hospitals refused to perform abortions on moral grounds.

In the rest of Mexico, a country where domestic and sexual violence often contribute to unwanted pregnancies, abortion is legal only if the fetus is a threat to the woman’s life, if she had been raped or if the fetus was impaired. According to the Los Angeles Times, a woman must first file a report against her rapist, then obtain a court order to give the doctor. Further, in Mexico City prior to 2007, a woman was required to have photos taken before and after the procedure, a requirement women’s groups called “a deliberate attempt to humiliate.” Human Rights Watch reported in 2006 that this type of treatment caused some women to find unsafe alternatives. Human Rights Watch also reported that, because the age of consent in Mexico is often as low as twelve years old, incest is many times considered “consensual.” The aid group explained, “Pregnant victims of incest and “estupro” (intercourse with a minor) are also, by law, denied the right to a legal abortion." In 2006, however, a 19-year-old mother won a settlement from the Mexican government for refusing to allow her an abortion after she was raped at 13 by a heroin addict, according to the Los Angeles Times.

During the six years through 2007, 524 women were charged in Mexico with having illegal abortions, The Washington Post reported. While the law in Mexico City has changed, the stigma clouding the abortion issue hasn’t disappeared. At public hospitals, women seeking abortions say they are “treated like prostitutes,” activists receive death threats, and doctors like Laura Garcia, the only gynecologist at her hospital who will perform abortions—requiring her to perform seven or eight a day—are harassed. Still, Garcia has seen septic shock and uncontrolled bleeding in women who underwent improperly performed abortions. She defended her decision, telling the International Herald Tribune: “I am a Catholic, but I have convictions. I don’t think I’m going to hell. If I go, it will be for something else.”

Background: Mexico City legalizes abortion; international and U.S. abortion law

According to The Guardian, there are between half a million and a million abortions a year in Mexico, but “most are of questionable legality.” In 39 percent of cases, women chose abortion because they already had children and felt they couldn’t financially support another child; 58 percent of women who had abortion also had surgeries to prevent future pregnancies.

On April 24, 2007, the day abortion was legalized in Mexico City, The Washington Post reported, “Riot police held back thousands of protesters, some hoisting coffins and others waving plastic fetuses, as lawmakers wrangled over a measure that would allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and abolish a seven-decade-old law that levied criminal penalties against women who have abortions.”

At the UN World Conference on Women in 1995, approximately 189 countries signed the Beijing Platform for Action, which stated, “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.” However, the agreement added the following caveat: “Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.”

In 1973 in the United States, the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade declared abortion legal based on a woman’s right to privacy. Later court cases determined the laws regarding informed consent, spousal consent, parental consent and reporting requirements.

Opinion & Analysis: Anti-abortion advocates reject new law

Appealing to members of Mexico’s Supreme Court, the director of the International Office of the Life Foundation, Paulina Sada, expressed her concerns about the economic cost of abortion, noting the future obstacle of meeting “population replacement levels.”  She emphasized the link between abortion and population crises in Russia, Cuba and the Czech Republic. Sada also noted that Sweden’s abortion rate has jumped 60 percent among teens and noted that it also has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

Related Topics: Incest and abortion; Catholic countries and abortion; emotional effects


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