Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Mexico Before CEDAW: A Catalogue of Woes

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (or CEDAW) was established in 1982 and is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues. The objective of the committee is to watch over the situation of women in those countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Each country periodically presents a report to the committee which is then discussed by the committee. NGOs and human rights groups can also present a review of the situation to the committee. The committee then draws up recommendations based on this discussion.

This year the countries presenting reports to the CEDAW include the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico’s report was presented and discussed this week. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to CEDAW, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture, Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights, Justice for Our Daughters and Centre for Women’s Rights in Chiapas.

The papers submitted by human rights organizations make for depressing reading. In general they highlight a series of issues which make life for women in Mexico –especially poor and/or indigenous women– extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall look into the issues in more detail. However, this week I want to provide a general overview.

Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UNIFEM concluded that at least 34, 000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985-2009. It also demonstrated that there had been a marked fall in the murder rate amongst men after 2007, but that the equivalent rate for women had stayed the same. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. In 2010 it is estimated that there were 2, 418 murders of women and 23, 285 murders of men.

Amnesty notes that murders of women however are frequently undocumented and that there is a routine failure to conduct autopsies. It also points to the fact that the manner in which murders of women are documented make it impossible to determine the rate with which women murderers are arrested and prosecuted.

Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes that violence against them is very frequently of a misogynistic nature:

“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”

Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico each year on their way to the US. They are regularly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder often with the full complicity of the police. In 2011, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights found that some 11, 000 migrants had been kidnapped. Amnesty estimated that at least six of every ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.

Imprisonment of women: Approximately 5% of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons, 2.8%, are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. In a study of 92 mixed prisons it was found that in 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and the inmates used shared facilities.

Women form a disproportionate number of remand prisoners. The great majority of them are between 18 and 37, usually mothers and often single parents. More than 85% are first time offenders and 65% are accused of crimes related to drugs, usually relating to the possession of small amounts of prohibited sustances.

Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The World Organization Against Torture highlights the case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State in 2006. 26 later made formal complaints after they were raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The report highlights the Mexican “state’s lack of will” to prosecute those involved.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty point to the difficulty women have to obtain contraception and legal abortion. They emphasize how constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states which guarantee life from conception have had the “chilling effect” of reinforcing barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the wide-spread practice of arresting women after miscarriage and still birth on charges of foeticide or infanticide.

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women: The risk of maternal death amongst indigenous women is considerably higher than amongst no-indigenous women. This is the result of inadequate or inaccessible health care facilities, discriminatory practices towards indigenous women by health care professionals and a lack of translators.

As might be expected, the Mexican government’s statement to CEDAW tried to paint a rather different picture of life for women in Mexico. It highlighted the advances in education amongst girls, for example raising primary school attendance from 94% to 96% and secondary school attendance from 75% to 86%. It also made much of recent constitutional reforms by which Mexico adopted the UN’s declaration of human rights. It also talked of government reforms to widen health-care provision; it mentioned family planning policies in passing but did not address the issue of abortion. Finally, it recognized the “violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”. However, it asked the Committee to take into account the context of violence in which Mexico currently lives in assessing this situation.

An edited version of this article is available on e-feminist.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mexico Continues to Illegally Deny Sexual Assault Victims Access to Abortions

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.

20120714-123013.jpg 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

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Women's Right to Choose, , , , ,

Are Racism, Poverty and Prejudice the Underlying Causes of Maternal Mortality in Mexico?

Mexico has a poor record in tackling the problem of high levels of maternal mortality. Research and associated statistics demonstrate the underlying problems of this issue are racism, poverty and a widespread prejudice against abortion. It seems clear that the government will be unable to successfully reduce the rates of maternal mortality unless these questions are addressed.


This post has been published as part of blogger Salt and Caramel’s blog hop about the importance of access to maternal health services and contraception. Join here: http://saltandcaramel.com/people-not-numbers/

(You can see her Twitter profile here)

Maternal Mortality Rates in Mexico

International research shows that the overwhelming majority of maternal deaths can have been avoided through prompt medical attention. For this reason, maternal mortality rates are considered to be a indicator of access to health services and their quality. Basic measures requires to reduce maternal mortality include: access to contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy; easy access to emergency obstetric care in case of complications; as well as qualified and respectful care from health care providers.

When Mexico signed up forthe UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2007, the government promised to work to towards achieving a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 22.3 deaths for every 100, 000 births. However, it is far from reaching this target, the MMR was 57.2 in 2008, 62.2 in 2009 and 51.5 in 2010 [1]. Maternal morality is the fourth most likely cause of death amongst women in Mexico, only more die in traffic accidents (10%), suicide (8.5%) and murder (7%) [2].

According to IPAS, the MMR rate in Mexico is determined by the following factors:

  1. Ethnicity: indigenous women are at higher risk than any other group (see below).
  2. Level of Education: the less education a women has received the more at risk she from dying of a complication relating to pregnancy.
  3. Access to health services: around one in three women who die during pregnancy have no access to state health services. A further 39.2% only have access to basic state services (called Seguro Popular, or People’s Insurance).
  4. Age: women at both ends of their reproductive lives are more at risk of maternal mortality [3].

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women in Mexico

According to the Observatorio de Mortalidad Maternal (Maternal Mortality Watchdog), 14% of Mexican women who died in 2010 as a result of their pregnancy were indigenous women. This global figure is small because that the indigenous population is not evenly distributed throughout the Mexican Republic. States with large indigenous populations like Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca have the highest mortality rates in Mexico; they are home to around 20% of all maternal deaths in Mexico. In Guerrero and Oaxaca around half the maternal deaths occur amongst indigenous women [4].

Indigenous women are most likely to be unable to access full public health services during their pregnancy. In fact, around 20% of indigenous women who died from complications related to pregnancy had no access at all to public health services. It is estimated, furthermore, that indigenous women are the group most unlikely to receive contraceptive education or products. They are also more likely to begin sexual activity at a young age (national average is 18 years old, amongst indigenous women it is 16) and typically become pregnant within in a year of having sexual relations. Indigenous women also have on average more children than other Mexican women (3.23 as opposed to the national average of 2.1) [5]. Finally, they also have more difficulty acquiring reliable contraception. In Guerrero it has been estimated that there is a unmet contraceptive need of up to 25.8%, for example [6].

Teenage pregnancy in Mexico

In Mexico, 83% of all cases of hospitalisation amongst young women between 10 and 19 years old are related to pregnancy. In the case of girls between 10 and 14 years of age, one out of every three cases are a result of pregnancy. By the age of twenty, around half the female population has at least one child [7].

Teenage pregnancy is a particular feature of Mexico’s northern states (San Luis Potosi, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Chihuahua especially). IPAS calculates that between 20 and 30% of maternal deaths occur amongst teenagers in these states. One of the reasons for the large numbers of teenage pregnancies in Mexico is due the low use of contraception amongst this age group (40% as opposed to a national average of 70.9%). This is, in itself due to poor sexual education and an inadequate distribution of contraception [8].

Unsafe
Abortion As A Risk Factor

The NGO Maternidad sin riesgo (Risk Free Maternity) estimates that there are approximately 4, 200, 000 pregnancies in Mexico each year, of which only 60% are carried to term. The rest end in abortion, miscarriages or still birth [9]. The Guttmacher Institute reckons that 19% of Mexican women will end a pregnancy at least once during her reproductive life [10]. Abortion is severely restricted in most parts of Mexico, except in certain circumstances such as rape and even then can be difficult to obtain). Only the capital, Mexico City, permits elective abortion up to 12 weeks. As a result, the vast majority of abortions in Mexico are carried out in unsafe conditions by unqualified people.

Officially, complications due to abortion in Mexico make up between 6 and 7% of all maternal mortality deaths. However, the World Health Organisation calculates that maternal mortality related to abortion accounts for 13% of worldwide deaths and 24% in Latin America. Recent research published in Mexico suggests that deaths related to abortion are generally not reported as such, but rather classified as haemorrhages or infections [11]. This can be explained by the fact that abortion is not generally accepted in Mexico and women who are accused of procuring an abortion can face murder charges and life imprisonment. It would seem likely that health care providers often prefer to turn a blind eye to abortion related deaths in many cases.

Public Health Policies

The Mexican government has undertaken a number of policies in its attempt to reduce maternal mortality in Mexico. For example, it has instigated a programme which aims to provide free healthcare in pregnancy to all women, even those without public health insurance. It has attempted to increase the number of healthcare professionals available and even taken up schemes to train lay midwives.

However, the problem remains grave. The NGO IPAS, for example, considers that the issue is not the lack of public policy, but rather their inadequate realisation by state health authorities. It also complains that money destined for maternal health programmes is not always properly distributed and that investment from the government is falling [12]. Those groups which work with indigenous women insist that healthcare professionals should be trained to offer respectful and dignified care; most importantly, explications, diagnosis and treatment should be offered in indigenous languages. Cultural sensitivities should also be respected during examinations [13].

In conclusion, therefore, it would seem evident that Mexico’s high maternal mortality rate is a result of inadequate care offered to the most vulnerable sectors of society: the poor, who don’t have health insurance; the young, whose access to contraception and sexual education is limited and, above all indigenous women, who usually feature in the first two categories also, and who are unable to access health services in a language they can understand.

Fuentes

[1] Presentation given by IPAS Mexico on 9 May 2012 in a press conference organized by Coalición para la Salud de las Mujeres (Coalition for Women’s Health). Full test is available here: http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[2] “En 18 años, murieron más de 3 mil niñas por causas maternas”, article at CIMAC Noticias, 14 April 2011, http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/11041406-En-18-anos-muriero.46785.0.html

[3] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[4] http://www.omm.org.mx/index.php/indicadores.html

[5] Powerpoint presentation given by Lina Rosa Berrío Palomo of the NGO, Kinal Antzetik, Mexico, DF. Available here: http://fundar.org.mx/clases/destacado/post-1

[6] Octavio Mojarro Dávila y Doroteo Mendoza Victoriano, “Tendencias y cambios en las políticas contraceptivas en México y el mundo. ¿Qué hemos logrado y adónde se pretende llegar?” in Salud pública de México, no. 49 (edición especial), pp. 238-240. Available here: http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/106/10649089.pdf

[7] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[8] http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/106/10649089.pdf

[9] R. Lozano, B. Hernández, y A. Langer, “Factores sociales y económicos de la mortalidad materna en México,” en: A. Langer (ed.)Maternidad sin Riesgos en México, México,Comité Promotor de la Iniciativa por una Maternidad sin Riesgos en México/Instituto Mexicano de Estudios Sociales, 1994. pp. 43-52.

[10] “Population Council. Datos sobre el aborto inducido en México,” Mexico, Alan Guttmacher Institute/Colegio de México, 2006. Available here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2008/10/01/FIB_IA_Mexico_

[11] Sonia B. Fernández Cantón, Gonzalo Gutiérrez Trujillo, y Ricardo Viguri Uribe, “La mortalidad materna y el aborto en México,” in Boletín de Medicina del Hospital Infantil Mexicano, vol. 69, no. 1, 2012, pp. 77-80. Available here: http://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/bmhim/hi-2012/hi121k.pdf

[12] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[13] Powerpoint presentation given by Lina Rosa Berrío Palomo of the NGO, Kinal Antzetik, Mexico, DF. Available here: http://fundar.org.mx/clases/destacado/post-1

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , ,

Never a Better Time to be a Woman?

In the words of US historian Lesley Byrd Simpson, there are many Mexicos. Which Mexico you live in depends –as it does elsewhere– on the circumstances in which you were (un)lucky enough to be born.

According to the most recent government census (INEGHI 2011) Mexico has a population of just over 113 million inhabitants, making it the second biggest country in North America after the United States. Over 19 million people live in its capital, Mexico City and its environs, making it the largest urban agglomeration in the Western Hemisphere after São Paolo. Although Mexico was predominately rural society until the second half of the twentieth-century, now more than 50% of its population now lives in large towns and it is estimated that more than 70% live in an urban setting. As is the case in many countries, urbanization has followed industrialization, and in Mexico, both phenomena are more pronounced in the centre and north of the country.

What is now Mexico was colonised by the Spanish in the sixteenth-century. Colonisation meant the arrival of both Europeans and Africans, and as a result, the majority of modern Mexicans have mixed racial characteristics. Nearly a third of the population is indigenous and a scant 1% is entirely White European in origin. As a general rule, indigenous populations are concentred in the centre and south of the country in predominantly rural areas.

Looked at from a national level, there has never been a better time to be a woman in Mexico. Rising urbanisation, better access to education and health services mean that female life expectancy is growing. Women make up 52% of the population. The average woman has only two children, compared to the six or seven she would have had in the 1970s. Women have also entered the workforce in considerable numbers in the last decades: according to government statistics 17% of women worked outside the home in 1970; by 2004 this had doubled to 38% and in 2012 the percentage of working women was estimated to be around 45%. In last few presidential elections, there have been women candidates –most recently, Patricia Mercado in 2006 and Josefina Vázquez Mota this year– although, in general there is only 20-25% female representation in state and national legislatures.

However, despite these advances it is clear that women still face huge problems in their daily lives, especially if they have the misfortune to be poor, rural and/or indigenous. In rural areas with large indigenous communities, health services are often hours away, meaning, among other things, that maternal mortality continues to be very high. The south-western state of Guerrero, for example, has a maternal mortality rate of 74.21 deaths per 10 000 births (as part of the Millennium Goals the UN target for maternal mortality is 22 per 10, 000). Women who do access health services during pregnancy routinely suffer discrimination or ill-treatment: it is common, for example, to hear complaints from post-partum women that they have been fitted with the contraceptive coil –without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge. In some cases this action, which is dangerous as it can interfere with the recovery of the post-partum uterus, has directly contributed to the death of the mother.
Moreover, in Mexico abortion is strictly regulated not readily accessible; thus, women who miscarry or have problems with pregnancy are often scared to visit the hospital as there is always the risk that medical staff will decide they have provoked an abortion and denounce them to the authorities. As recent publicity has shown, this charge can lead to prison sentences of twenty years. Equally, it is also common to hear that women and girls who have the legal right to an abortion (usually after a sexual assault) have been denied the procedure. This leads to heartbreaking cases, such as the one reported here from 2010, in which a 10 year old girl from a rural community in Yucatán was forced to give birth after being raped by her step-father.

Finally, despite all the advances women have made in the public sphere over the last thirty years, Mexico remains an extremely sexist society. A survey in 2010 suggested that six out of ten women needed to ask their husband’s permission in order to work. A further four out of ten also required this permission to use contraception or choose their child’s school. In general, women earn between 15 and 30% less than their male counterparts and do the overwhelming majority of housework and childcare. On average a women will work 49 hours a week in the home, while an average man does 9. If Mexico is to become a more women friendly place, these attitudes have to change.

This article was originally published at http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/5/27/the-challenges-of-being-a-woman-in-mexico.html

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , ,

Abortion, Women’s Reproductive Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court

This week Mexico’s Supreme Court debated the question of whether recent reforms to the constitutions of the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí were constitutional. Both these constitutions, in common with 17 other states, have included a clause that guarantees the “right to life” from the moment of conception. As I have mentioned on this blog, these reforms have been enacted in response to the legalisation of abortion during the first trimester of gestation in Mexico’s Federal District in 2007 (see here, here and here). In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mexico’s federal entities (the 32 states and the Federal District) to legislate on the issue of abortion and rejected a motion for this law to be declared unconstitutional, signalling that the Federal Constitution did not grant the right to life to unborn foetus or embryos.

Given this earlier ruling, prochoice groups had been hopeful that the Court would declare the recent reforms in Baja California and San Luis Potosí unconstitutional, thus paving the way for these same reforms to be challenged in the other states where this amendment had been adopted. This was not to be, however; the Court ruled 7-4 in favour of declaring the reforms unconstitutional, but the motion was dismissed because in votes on questions of constitutionality statute requires the minimum of 8 votes to pass.

What does this decision mean? In the first place, it seems to reiterate the 2008 ruling that Mexico’s federal entities have the faculty to decide on the question of abortion. This is the conclusion that most English reports have emphasised (see for example the Washington Post). However, the implications appear to be more wide-ranging than that. Upholding the idea that life can be legally defined as beginning at conception could also have other consequences; namely in the area of anti-contraceptive use and assisted pregnancy. [1] Some anti-contraceptive devices work by preventing a fertilised egg establishing itself in the womb (like the morning after pill or the coil) for example. IVF treatment usually involves the fertilisation of more eggs than are eventually implanted in the womb; the rest of are usually frozen. Will the constitutional amendments also trigger a revision of what is legal in these cases? Leading Mexican legal scholars think so.[2]

Moreover, the precise wording of the Baja Californian amendment which read: “from the moment an individual is conceived, she/he falls under the protection of the law and is considered born for all legal effects” (“desde el momento en que un individuo es concebido, entra bajo la protección de la ley y se le reputa como nacido para todos los efectos legales correspondientes” [3]) suggests further issues; some apparently trivial, some more serious.

For example, does this recognition of the juridical existence of an embryo/foetus mean that it should be named and issued with identification documents? If the mother needs to travel abroad will she need to acquire a passport for the contents of her womb? More worryingly, the reform seems to give constitutional legitimacy to the already widespread practise in Mexico (see my posts here and here) of prosecuting a women for a suspected induced abortion for murder, rather than for illegally terminating their pregnancy. This allows them to be sentenced for custodial sentences of 20 plus years rather than the 4 or 5 stipulated in the penal codes for abortion. Finally, it appears inevitable that the upholding of the reforms will also mean the criminalising of nearly all women whose pregnancies end in unexplained circumstances, since miscarriages and still-births might be liable to be considered suspected terminations unless it can be proved otherwise. This is concerning as a high number of pregnancy ends in miscarriage in the first trimester of gestation. It is estimated for example that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are aborted spontaneously, usually before the 6th week of pregnancy. After that, the miscarriage rate is calculated at between 15 and 20%. Moreover 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks of pregnancy, many with no obvious cause [4]. Can Mexico’s already over-stretched and inefficient justice system deal with this number of investigations? The criminalisation of miscarriage and still-birth is also likely to prevent many women seeking medical attention, putting their lives at risk and increasing Mexico’s already high maternal mortality rates (see my post here).

Abortion is a contentious subject in Mexico, as is in most Catholic countries there is strong antiabortion feeling amongst the faithful, encouraged by the Church. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, the Archbishop of Mexcali (in Baja California) claimed that the Pope had been in communication with one or more of the Supreme Court judges in attempt to influence their vote. This accusation was denied by the Vatican [5]. The political party currently in control of Mexico’s Presidency, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional or PAN), is resolutely opposed to abortion; and the party with a majority in Congress –the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido de la Revolución Institucional or PRI) – has sponsored many of the states’ constitutional amendments on the subject of the right to life. Only the minority Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Demcrática or PRD) is prochoice, as evidenced by the legislation in the Federal District, one of the very few entities controlled by this party.

The situation then looks grim in the short-term for prochoice activists in Mexico. However, it must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court did in fact produce a majority in favour of striking down the reforms; it just wasn’t a big enough majority. It can only be hoped that at some future date, the composition of the Court will be more favourable to the protection of women’s rights.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/editoriales/54864.html

[2] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/09/26/politica/007n2pol

[3] http://eljuegodelacorte.nexos.com.mx/?p=1457

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage

[5] http://www.sinembargo.mx/30-09-2011/48652

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Charity Marie Stopes International Awards Prize to the Government of Mexico City for its Sexual and Reproductive Health Policies.

The following is an English version of this news item. An alternative version the same story can be found here.

The Government of the Mexico City’s Federal District has received a prize from the charity Marie Stopes International in recognition of its social policies concerning sexual and reproductive health, especially for the work it has carried out in the four years since elective abortion (up until 12 weeks of pregnancy) was introduced.

The capital’s Health Secretary, Armando Ahued Ortega, who travelled to London in representation of Marcelo Ebrad Casaubon, accepted the award from Dana Hovig, the Executive Director of Marie Stopes International, an organization founded in 1921 which now has a presence in 43 countries (including Mexico). On accepting the award, Ahued Ortega emphasised the evolution undergone by the programme Interrupción Legal del Embarazo (ILE) or the Legal Termination of Pregnancy, in the Federal District, which has involved the training of medical personnel, the move towards a drugs based approach, as well as the creation of a strategy to avoid unwanted pregnancy. He stated: “We only want women to become pregnant if they so wish, for this reason we have strengthened our campaigns in education about sexual and reproductive health.”

During his encounter with the representatives of Marie Stopes International, Ahued Ortega signed an agreement with the charity to receive their assistance in sexual and reproductive health policies. Since elective abortion was made legal in Mexico City’s Federal District in 2007, 97, 989 women have sought advice about this procedure; 79, 184 women have asked to terminate their pregnancies; and, 61, 549 have undergone the procedure.

Filed under: Women's Right to Choose, , , ,

Judge in Mexico Overturns 23-Year Prison Sentence of Mother Accused of “Murdering” her Fetus

This is a post about good news. On Thursday an appeal judge in Mexicali, Baja California released Lesly Karina Díaz Zamora, 21, who had been sentenced to a 23 year prison term in January on the charge of “murder by a relative” (homicidio por razón de parentesco) after suffering a spontaneous miscarriage. Díaz Zamora had already spent two years in remand without bail prior to this. Details can be found about the charges and the campaign in favour of her release in my previous posts here and here. (An additional report in English from the online newspaper MexicoPerspective.com can be also found on their website). After considering the case for appeal the judge ruled that Díaz Zamora had no charges to answer and ordered her to be immediately exonerated and released. It can only be hoped that this young women, who already has a five-year old child, will be able to rebuild her life after such a traumatic ordeal and will not have to go on suffering the prejudices of a society which labelled her a murderer on the most flimsy of evidence.

Unfortunately, many more women are in Díaz Zamora’s situation in Baja California and other states in Mexico. As I have documented, it is a sadly common practise in Mexico to prosecute women for the charge of “murder by relative” if they are suspected of having an abortion. This is because the law does not allow prolonged custodial sentences for abortion, while the charge of murder can be punished with sentences of up to 25 years, as was the case for Díaz Zamora. Freeing these women must be our next priority.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Women's Right to Choose, , , ,

Abortion and Maternal Mortality in Mexico

On 13 April 2011 activists celebrated the fourth anniversary of the legalisation of Abortion in Mexico’s Federal District, better known as Mexico City (México DF). The voluntary interruption of pregnancy is not permitted in any other Mexican states except in special circumstances, such as rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. However, it is extremely difficult to obtain an abortion even in these cases, as the case of Paulina Ramírez Jacinta illustrated in 1999 [1]. As I have had cause to note in this blog [2] [3] [4], the practices and attitudes prevalent amongst healthcare workers and in the Mexican judicial system as a whole, ensure that any pregnancy that ends before it comes to term is looked at with suspicion. Women have been and are being prosecuted after suffering miscarriage or stillbirth. Worse still, they are usually charged with murder rather than abortion, as this allows the courts to impose more severe penalties on the “offenders”; usually prison terms of 20 years or more. This obviously discourages women from seeking medical attention when they suffer a miscarriage.

As elsewhere, the hostility to abortion in Mexico is linked to opposition to contraception and the unwillingness to condone any sexual behaviour that does not seek reproduction. This is especially true in relation to adolescents. As a result, Mexico is faces the following situation:

1) There are an estimated 102, 000 to 553, 100 abortions every year.

2) Nationally, one woman dies every nine days as a result of undergoing an unsafe abortion. In DF where abortion is legal, this figure is one woman every 52 days or 7 every year.

3)83% of public hospital admissions for female teenagers in the 10 to 19 age-range are due to complications relating to pregnancy.

4) 27.9% of this group are girls from the 10 to 14 age-range. This accounts for one in three of every hospital admission for girls aged 10 to 14.

5) In 2009, the fertility-rate for female adolescents in the 15 to 19 age-range was 70. 4 children for every 1,000 inhabitants.

6) Maternal mortality is the fourth cause of death for women in Mexico (after traffic accidents, murder and suicide).

Maternal mortality is particularly prevalent in the poorer rural regions of Mexico: the southern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas play host 20% of all maternal deaths, for example (see my post here); although, the state with the worst track record is that of president hopeful Enrique Peña Nieto: the central State of Mexico (see other posts about Peña Nieto here and here). The hot spots of adolescent pregnancy can be found in the states boarding the USA, especially in the border towns with large migrant and would-be migrant populations. In Tamaulipas, for example, 15% of all pregnancies are to adolescent mothers; a disturbing number of whom are girls under 15, while some are as young as 12.

[1] 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.  As a result of the complaint made to the International Court of Human Rights, the Mexican Health Service has issued a directive (no. 046) which obliges health workers to provide an abortion to those who are legally entitled to one. See link here for more details.

[2] Mexico continues to lock up women for abortion and miscarriage

[3]  30 Women including a 12 year old girl prosecuted for procuring abortions in Puebla

[4] Women imprisoned for miscarriages in Mexico

Filed under: Feminism, Women's Right to Choose, , , ,

Petition in Favour of the Release of Lesly: A Young Mother Imprisoned For 23 Years For Murder After Suffering a Miscarriage

As I reported last week, in Baja California, there are at least 14 women currently in prison on remand charged with murder after their pregnancies ended before gestation was complete. This number includes at least one woman who insists that she suffered a miscarriage. This woman, Lesly Karina Díaz Zamora, who is now 21, is already the mother of a five year old child (you can see a video –in Spanish– about the case here). Lesly was arrested at the hospital she had gone to looking for medical attention in the summer of 2008, and was later remanded in custody without bail. She was finally sentenced on 20 January to a 23 year custodial sentence after already having passed more than two years already in detention. She is currently appealing this sentence on the grounds that the prosecution were unable to prove intentionality and the investigation against her did not follow due process. The other accused face similar sentences and have also all been refused bail.

The maximum tariff allowed by Baja Californian law for the crime of abortion is 4 years. In common with the other women in prison, Lesly was accused of murder in accordance with the amendment of the state constitution that defines life as beginning at conception.

This week women’s right groups, led by the Red Iberoamericana Pro Derechos Humanos (Ibero American Network for Human Rights); the Federación de Mujeres Universitarias (Federation of University Women); the Coordinación Nacional de Mujeres por un Milenio Feminista de Baja California (National Coordination for a Feminist Millennium in Baja California); and the Comisión Ciudadana de Derechos Humanos del Noroeste (Citizens’ Committee for Human Rights in the North-West) have undertaken a number of events to campaign for the release of Lesly.

At the moment they are circulating a petition to be presented to the governor of Baja California, José Guadaulpe Osuna Millán; the state’s Procurador General de Justicia (Chief Prosecuting Officer), Rommel Moreno Manjarrez; the Human Rights Commissioner for the State of Baja California, Heriberto García García; and the Prosecuting Officer for Mexicali, María Elena Andrade Ramírez to demand that Lesly be released on the grounds that her human rights were not respected during the investigation or her sentencing. The following is a translation of the petition:

 

We, the undersigned citizens and organizations wish to express our profound indignation at the persecution and criminalisation of Lesly, a 21 year-old young woman from Mexicali, who has been sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Punished for the crime of homicidio agravada por parentesco (aggravated murder by reason of relationship), Lesly’s case is yet one more of series in which women’s fundamental rights and liberties have been violated leading to their unjustified imprisonment. A recent example of this occurring is in the state of Guanajuato.

We are directing this petition to you as members of bodies involved in this injustice, since you should play a fundamental part in assuring that these offices respect Lesly’s right to equality and to freedom from discrimination.

As a result of the above, we make an urgent appeal for:

The Human Rights Commissioner for the State of Baja California, Heriberto García García to make the relevant recommendation for an inquiry into the human rights violations to which Lesly has been subjected.

The Prosecuting Officer for Mexicali, María Elena Andrade Ramírez to revise and investigate the sentence passed against Lesly in Mexicali by the presiding judge of its 4th District, taking into account the testimonies of abuse presented by lawyers acting in her defence.

The Governor of the state of Baja California, José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, to do all that is in his power to order Lesly’s immediate release.

We wish to ensure that the Mexican state respects the secular nature and human rights enshrined in our Constitution; as well as the international treaties Mexico has signed concerning human rights.

Immediate freedom for Lesly!

Yours Sincerely,

 

You can add your signature to the petition here.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

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