The XX Factor

Mexico Cracks Down on Illegal Abortion

When Mexico City decriminalized abortion in 2007, pro-choicers took it as a sign of great things to come, possibly including a nationwide liberalizing of abortion laws. Unfortunately, as Mary Cuddehe reports in the Atlantic , the Catholic Church and general sexist establishment reacted with outrage and doubled down on the war against women who want to control when they have children. Since then, 14 Mexican states have passed laws defining personhood as starting at conception, with some even going so far as to ban IUDs while they were at it. The result is that women have been going to jail for obtaining illegal abortions.

Though the anti-choice lobby in Mexico is as adept at affecting a love of fetal life as the anti-choice lobby in the United States, the largely anti-sex, misogynist underpinnings of anti-choice beliefs speak loudly through the laws. As Cuddehe reports, the state of Jalisco even adjusts a woman’s sentence for abortion depending on her reputation and whether or not she had sex outside of marriage. And just like in the United States, anti-choicers dance around the issue of what to do with women who do abort. Officials in Guanajuato claim no woman has gone to jail for abortion, but pro-choice activists in the state say dozens have. It also seems that women who spontaneously miscarry also run into danger from suspicious doctors. Already a Mayan woman in Quintana Roo has been brought up on homicide charges for a termination she claims was spontaneous.

Complications and even death from illegal abortion in Mexico are a serious public health concern, and 62 percent of Mexicans believe that abortion should be legal. So why is this even happening? Much to most of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of the Catholic Church, which has chosen Latin America in general as the major front in their war against women. As Michelle Goldberg noted in my podcast interview with her , the Catholic Church has decided the best way to keep the flock faithful is to go after the abortion issue like a rabid dog. When you hear cases like the 9-year-old rape victim in Brazil seeking abortion , it’s often because the Church seeks these extreme cases out and makes a stink out of forcing the girl in question to give birth. These cases work to show the extremes the Church is willing to go in its beliefs about mandatory childbirth, even as the rest of the world stands by and says, “Really? A 9-year-old?”

And in Mexico, women are learning how eager the Church is to run over them to prove its patriarchal bona fides . All the sentimental rhapsodizing about fetal life hasn’t stopped an estimated 875,000 a year from seeking abortion (in a country with a third of our population). Off-label and black market use of the ulcer medication Cytotec is a popular method, since its main ingredient misoprostol can induce abortion. The problem is that using the drug this way can cause severe bleeding and uterine rupture, and indeed, 18 percent of the women seeking abortion in 2006 in Mexico were hospitalized for complications. But as the women of Mexico are learning, their health and well-being don’t amount to much when their bodies can be used as a battleground for the war against modernity.