28 September is the international day set aside by activists to demand the decriminalizing of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. To mark this occasion, the Red de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en México (Sexual and Reproductive Rights Network in Mexico) is organising a symbolic rally in Mexico City, the republic’s capital to call for the legalisation of abortion here. The rally will take place on Monday 27 September –a historically important date here, as Mexico’s Declaration of Independence was signed on this day in 1821- at the memorial to former president Benito Juárez, liberal architect of Mexico’s secular constitution. The focus of the rally is the presentation of the Declaration of Independence for Women’s Bodies, which participants will be invited to sign .
Readers of this blog will be aware that women’s sexual health and reproductive rights are a polemic issue here in Mexico, pitting traditional, conservative Catholic values against those who defend women’s right to control her own fertility. But the question is not quite that clear cut: in general, women’s sexual health is also a class and a race issue. The poorest and more marginalised women in rural areas –and most especially indigenous women- are those who most suffer as a result of a lack of access to contraception, sexual and reproductive education and health care during pregnancy.
A couple of recent news stories will suffice to illustrate my point. Last month, in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother. Needless to say, she had been raped. The state of Quintana Roo does permit therapeutic abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but the girl out of ignorance or shame did not reveal what had happened until she was more than 4 months pregnant . According to a different report, 96 women have died during labour in South-Western state of Guerrero, one of the most marginalised in Mexico (pop. 3.2 million). Shockingly, these women did not die from unavoidable complications, but rather neglect. As the report says, their deaths resulted from the lack of routine medical attention: their local hospital was simply not open; or, their doctor did not provide adequate care and they suffered fatal haemorrhages .
In the specific case of abortion, the draconian laws in place and predominance of Catholic opinion on the subject, means that the majority of those who do abort –legally or illegally- do not receive adequate medical attention. According to one activist, hundreds of women die in Mexico every year from botched amateur abortion; moreover, only one in six women who aborted received any kind of medical treatment . Finally, as the case of the women imprisoned in Guanajuato that I have documented here shows, women from lower social classes are those whom the state will prefer to prosecute in the event that they take matters into their own hands or are unfortunate enough to miscarry in circumstances that give rise to the suspicion of them having induced their labour.
I perhaps do not need to add that the sisters and daughters of the politicians who decide state policies do not face these kinds of problems. Despite the Church’s condemnation of contraception they will take measures to control their fertility and, in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, will go abroad or to private institutions in Mexico City to “take care of the situation” discretely. Thus, at the heart of the anti-abortion policy there is a terrible hypocrisy that condemns women three times over: it denies them access to sex education and contraception; it denies them the right to terminate their pregnancies; and, once they are pregnant, it will permit their death in childbirth without so much as a blink of an eye.
Enough is enough. Respect women’s human rights. Let’s put an end to the hypocrisy and save lives!