Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

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.

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Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, 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, , ,

Teen Mother Dies of Septic Poisoning After Being Fitted With an IUD Coil Without Her Consent

Further to the story I reported here a couple of weeks ago, it appears that the practice of implanting the IUD or coil into women without their consent is not confined to Oaxaca. Yesterday the CIMAC news website published a story by Chantel Martínez Díaz about the death of 17 year old Perla Gacela from Tamaulipas. She died of septicemia after an IUD coil was fitted in her uterus post-partum without her consent. The following is a translated summary of the story:

Perla Gacela did not have access to contraception and last year, became pregnant at 17. After she gave birth to her son Valentín at the “Norberto Treviño Zapata” General Hospital in Ciudad Victoria (the state capital) in December 2010, the gynecologist who treated her fitted an IUD coil in her uterus without telling her or her mother. The coil caused her uterus to become infected and, as a result Perla died on 10 February 2011. Her mother has taken charge of Valentín, but still cannot pay the hospital fees her daughter incurred nor the debts related to her funeral. She is understandable very angry and upset about what happened to her daughter and called for the practice of implanting coils into patients without their permission to be stopped immediately.

Susana Collado, a gynecologist and obstetrician at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, quoted in the article, points out quite correctly that this type of behaviour by doctors is “a flagrant violation of women’s human rights” as well as contravening the Mexican Constitution, which guarantees women the liberty to make her own choices about contraception. Moreover, she says the practice “points not only to the inhuman and degrading treatment [given to the women] but also to ignorance about the use of contraception” since the IUD coil is not the only contraception available to post partum women.

According to a local NGO, Observatorio de la Mortalidad Materna (Maternal Mortality Watch), 4.2% of maternal deaths in Tamaulipas are in the 11-19 age group. This report leads me to ask how many young girls have died due to the meddling of paternalistic doctors?

Filed under: 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, , , , , ,

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, , , ,

INDEPENDENCE FOR WOMEN’S BODIES: 27 SEPTEMBER 2010

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 [1].

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 [2]. 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 [3].

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 [4]. 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!

[1] http://www.ddeser.info/28sep2010/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101

[2] http://www.awid.org/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Mexico-Many-States-Crack-Down-on-Abortion

[3] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092406-En-lo-que-va-del-an.44365.0.html

[4] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092405-Cada-ano-el-aborto.44364.0.html

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

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