In the last five years, 127 women have been put on trial for abortion in Mexico.
When Laura, a 22-year-old woman from Puebla, went to the emergency room because she was hemorrhaging, she ended up under arrest.
Puebla is a Mexican state that has created laws to “protect life, starting at conception,” and local hospital workers are required to report suspicions of illegal abortions to the police. Laura spent five days in the hospital under police custody, being accused of illegally inducing an abortion with the over-the-counter ulcer drug, Misoprostol. Though she was subject to criminal prosecution, Laura was freed when a judge determined there was insufficient evidence. Then she was left to pay legal fees for a crime she was never proven to have committed.
This is just one of many stories documented in a new study by the Mexico City-based Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE), which found that between April 1, 2007 and July 31, 2012, 127 women in 19 states of Mexico were prosecuted for aborting their pregnancies. The study, entitled “Neglect and Indifference: Reproductive Rights in Mexico, reported:
Access to abortion in Mexico depends both on the woman’s place of residence and her socioeconomic status, making access a question of social justice and gender discrimination.
In 2007, Mexico City (which is both a city and a state) became the first of the 32 Mexican states to legalize abortion. Officially enacted in August 2008, the law allows the procedure for pregnancies up to 12 weeks, and requires public hospitals to provide abortions for free. The law was challenged, but it was ultimately ruled that abortion proceedings fall under state legislation.
Following legalization of the procedure in the country’s capital, 17 states rushed to make constitutional amendments protecting “fetal rights” starting at “the moment of conception.” Now, abortion rights in Mexico are a confusing patchwork of legislation that disproportionately hurts underprivileged women. The GIRE study showed that poor and indigenous women are five times more likely to have an unsafe abortion than non-indigenous women in better economic standing:
Women with economic resources can go to Mexico City or travel outside the country to get an abortion, but marginalized women and women in poverty don’t have this option.
All states except Guanajuato, Guerrero and Querétaro permit abortions in the case of a pregnant women’s life being in danger. Fourteen states permit abortion in the case of severe fetal deformities, and Yucatán permits abortion due to “economic hardship” if the mother already has three or more children.
All states also permit abortion in the case of rape; however, out of 120 women (and girls as young as 12) who have filed such cases in the last five years, only 39 were able to legally attain abortions.
The punishments for abortion or attempted abortion vary as well: In Tlaxcala, women can receive up to 15 days in jail, whereas in the more conservative state of Sonora women can receive up to six years for having the procedure. Other districts just charge a fine or require community service.
Options for women who live outside of the capital are limited: Many women take Misoprostol to induce labor, but if anything goes wrong they cannot go to the hospital because they risk prosecution. Private clinics provide an option for women who have money, and nonprofit organizations are trying to fill the gaps for those who don’t.
In terms of reproductive health, GIRE concludes its report with this:
There have been very important advances, like the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City up to 12 weeks of gestation. … However, general reforms to protect prenatal life without considering the protection of the life of the mother in question have negatively impacted the access to legal abortion services and safety throughout the country. … The protection of prenatal life is important, but it must be compatible with the protection of the rights of women. These reforms have generated a climate of persecution against women.