Abortion is one of those things you don’t discuss at the dinner table. Contraception, though less controversial, is still probably something you keep for your nearest and dearest – much like politics or religion. However, no matter how open or closed you are about your god, your vote, your sexuality, or your uterus for that matter, issues pertaining to reproductive rights will always be of the utmost importance not only for women, but for men – and they are inherently political. This series of articles has no intention of inciting blame, or suggesting to the reader that their way of thinking might have more or less merit. In fact, this series has no hopes of changing your personal beliefs; be they pro-choice, or pro-life. This series will however, highlight the politics and the real-world ramifications of being on either side of the fence – in doing so, allowing you to discern for yourself the state of the uterus, and decide for yourself whether or not you can politically justify your conscience.
The situation of reproductive rights in Mexico is tenuous at best. This is a state of affairs that hearkens the need for greater reproductive rights: a high ratio of abortion to live birth, issues of economic instability and income gap, problems of lack of access to sexual education in contrast to climbing levels of literacy among girls, and a general desire for smaller families. No country is static – the facts just alluded to are reflective of a profound desire for the legalization of abortion in Mexico. Yet, the law hasn’t followed suit. In a country where clandestine abortion rates have steadily increased over the last two decades, legalizing abortion appears to be necessary, yet improbable, as Christian values remain deeply ingrained in society.
Legal Abortion – A Necessity
Abortion laws in Mexico have by and large been incredibly restrictive. The laws are mandated at a state as opposed to a federal level, and in the majority of the country the practice is illegal. Exceptions have commonly been made (on paper, not often in practice) for cases of rape or incest, or in situations when the mother’s life is threatened.
2007 was however a landmark year for reproductive rights in Mexico. For the first time ever, abortions became legal during the first trimester in Mexico City. But since 2007, the rest of the country moved a few steps back. 18 states have added “Right to Life” amendments to their state law – protecting fetuses and giving them the status of legal persons from the time of conception. At least two of such states have criminalized abortion in all cases; including as a result of rape. 31 states have forcefully resisted their constituents’ desire for the liberalization of abortion law.
Despite the fact that abortion is a crime in most of Mexico, the rate of abortion has increased steadily since 1990. Given the clandestine methods available and the high rate of poverty, many women in Mexico would rather go rogue than go through with an unintended pregnancy. The penalty for an abortion outside of the constraints of the law is steep. A woman can be imprisoned for up to eight years on the charge of infanticide.
Restrictive laws and deplorable lack of access to sexual education (which is not taught in most Mexican high schools) as well as the poor access to contraception are all to blame for the alarming rate of clandestine abortions in the country. In addition, the reality of complicated and corrupt bureaucratic procedures associated with obtaining an abortion legally means that by the time the papers are processed and the request is granted or denied, the child is already born. There are ways around the system, but they’re only available to the extremely wealthy, or the extremely desperate.
The wealthy in Mexico have two options, they can either pay off one of their own doctors to have the procedure performed within the country, or they can head north and pay an American doctor to do it. The Poor though, are at the hands of a severely mismanaged and often corrupt healthcare system, which for a woman seeking an abortion outside of the law or in spite of it, might as well be no system at all. Poor women are thus left then with two options; have a child they do not want and probably cannot afford, or find a “doctor”, to do it for them in a back room. If not, they might use chemical DIY and the abortive pill, mifepristone, combined with its ugly cousin, originally designed as ulcer medication in the 80’s – mistropol. Many of such clandestine abortions result in a visit to the emergency room (in 2006, an estimated 149,700 back-door abortions lead to complications), which can, in turn, result in cuffs.
Ultimately the legalization of abortion in Mexico has become a situation of necessity.
In the United States, unintended children become wards of the state or simply privy to social funding. Mexico does not have a well-established welfare structure, meaning that children who would be wards of the state elsewhere, are more likely to become wards of the street – a situation that is untenable. If Mexico wanted to encourage fewer abortions in the state, there are ways of doing that: a combination of robust sexual education as well as easy access to contraception. In fact, a paradox exists in Mexico and in many other countries: while abortion is largely illegal, sexual education is almost unheard of. Lack of sexual education means less contraception use (In 2007, only 40% of educated adolescents claimed to use contraception regularly), and thus more risky sexual behaviour, which result in a greater need for abortions – and in the case of Mexico, a higher chance of a clandestine abortions.
So why has nothing been done?
Mostly because there are very strong political and cultural forces pushing in the opposite direction: towards greater restriction of reproductive rights. In the case of Mexico, conservative, religious political movements, and the ideological bias in the healthcare system are two of the many challenges to a change in abortion laws.
Statistically speaking – just as many religious women have abortions as non-religious or less religious women do. However, Christian values are deeply ingrained in Mexican society, and used for political purposes. In fact, as much as the Personhood movement – a powerful non-profit pro-life organization – is a force to be reckoned with in the United States, it is little in comparison with the strength of the movement in Mexico. The following is a quote from the Personhood USA blog:
More fundamentally, what Mexico shows us is that we need a courageous and principled approach to confronting evil, one that does not try to navigate the maze of lies which Roe and its progeny represent, but one that boldly and intelligently holds up the banner of truth marching forward with its own, true, moral compass.
When it comes to the Mexican healthcare system, many doctors hold very conservative views and simply refuse to perform abortion procedure and advise women against it, before even considering the state’s legal situation. When there is a legal way of pursuing abortion, women often find that the paperwork they’ve been told to provide, gets “lost” in the mail.
The fact of the matter is, the government is unwilling to put the time and the money into funding educational programs to prevent unintended pregnancies, but then makes safe and legal abortions impossible to find. In other words – the Mexican state governments are creating an impossible situation for the Mexican women in which they can either choose go through with an unintended pregnancy, or have a risky abortion. Ultimately, for many women, this is no choice at all.
– Meagan Potier
(Featured photo: digver, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 1 & 3: Daniel Iván, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 2: Jesús Villaseca Pérez., Creative Commons, Flickr)