In comparison to some Latin American countries (like for example, Nicaragua), Mexico does not prohibit abortions in all circumstances. Legislation on abortion is a matter for each state to decide and all allow for the interruption of pregnancy in the case of sexual assault or if the mother’s life is in danger. Only the national capital, Mexico City permits elective abortion until 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Unfortunately, having a right to abortion enshrined in law does not guarantee that local health authorities will provide them if requested. Paulina Ramírez Jacinta was 14 when she was raped in the State of Baja California in 1999. Her parents reported the crime and obtained legal permission for their daughter to have an abortion. However, they could not find a doctor or hospital ready to perform the procedure. They made a complaint to the International Court of Human Rights and as a result of the court’s ruling, the Mexican Health Service was obliged to issue a directive (NOM 046) which obliges health workers to provide an abortion to those who are legally entitled to one.
Despite this, it is still extremely difficult for a sexual assault victim to be given a abortion. This year, the NGO Human Rights Watch has prepared a report for the Committee for the Eradication of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) in which it describes how women and girls in this situation face “excessively complicated procedures, illegal hold-ups, lack of information or misinformation and even intimidation from health care professionals”. HRW also notes that rape victims are very rarely informed of their right to an abortion when they report the crime. As a result, it is not uncommon for even the youngest and at-risk victims to be forced to continue with a pregnancy after an assault. In 2010, an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), after being denied abortion despite the fact she had been raped.
HRW also mentions how recent constitutional reforms in Mexico have made the access to abortion even more difficult. The reforms in question are a reaction to the legalization of elective abortion in Mexico City. This was introduced in 2007 and has proved very controversial. Shortly after it became law, the President’s Office, the PGR and most depressingly of all, the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos), initiated proceedings in the Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, or SCJN) with the hope of having it declared unconstitutional on the grounds that (amongst other things) it was a violation of the unborn foetus’s life. In 2010, the SCJN presented its verdict, rejecting all the petitions. It affirmed that life was not defined as starting at conception in the Federal Constitution and upheld the constitutional right of the DF government to legislate on such matters as abortion.
In the light of this, conservative groups in the rest of Mexico’s states have pushed for the reform of their individual constitutions to ensure that the articles which refer to the inhabitants right to life and/or the duty of the state to ensure that this right is protected, explicitly define life as beginning at conception.. So far, 18 of Mexico’s federal entities (comprising of 31 states and DF) have passed this legislation.
It would appear that these reforms have two principal objectives. One is to prevent the legalization of elective abortion outside Mexico City. The second appears to be an attempt to circumvent the directive NOM 046 which obliges regional health services to provide abortion to victims of sexual violence. No one has been clearer on this subject than the governor of Jalisco, a traditionally conservative state. In 2009 Emilio González Márquez declared that the directive promoted abortion and affirmed that the national Secretary of Health “could not legislate over the wishes of the Jalisco’s constitution nor oblige it to practice abortions, even in the case of rape.”
This article was first published