Though abortion became legal in Mexico City this past May, the battle between pro-choicers and anti-choicers rages on. Luckily, it seems like the pro-choicers are winning, which means what it always means — women and girls who want to be able to choose what they do about their own pregnancy are winning.
Since May, more than 3,400 women have received abortions at 14 of the capital’s public hospitals.
“If it hadn’t been for the option to go to the Federal District, I probably wouldn’t have risked a clandestine abortion,” said Medeles, who traveled to Mexico City for the procedure in September with her 6-year-old daughter. “I might have had the baby, although I probably would have given it up for adoption.”
Abortion remains illegal in the rest of Mexico, as it is in nearly all of Latin America. A group of activists, most of whom are Roman Catholics, routinely picket public hospitals here to condemn abortion.
But in Mexico City, legalization is bringing a profound, if quiet, change to the way thousands of women lead their lives. In a country where unwanted pregnancies often strip women of their independence and ambitions, the extraordinary number of legal abortions taking place every day is beginning to diminish the procedure’s considerable cultural stigma.
“When people think of abortion, they no longer think of a hidden, shameful, illegal, clandestine and expensive procedure that is full of risks,” said Marta Lamas, who founded Mexico’s leading abortion rights group in 1992. . . .
City officials say a range of women and girls have had abortions at the city’s hospitals since May, including at least one 11-year-old. A quarter came from outside the city, officials said, some from as far as Baja California, more than 1,000 miles away.
Mexico’s Supreme Court is expected to rule early next year on a petition to have Mexico City’s law overturned on constitutional grounds. Abortion opponents are skeptical about their chances.
“It will be difficult, because attitudes are changing,” said Jorge Serrano Limon, leader of the National Pro-Life Committee, the leading antiabortion group here. “The pro-abortion current is growing tremendously. At the beginning, there was resistance in the medical community. Now there isn’t any.” . . .
Many of the old secret “clinics” that offered the cheapest and most dangerous surgical abortions, usually for about $400, have closed. Private hospitals that once charged as much as $2,000 for an illegal abortion have been forced to sharply reduce their prices, Lamas says.
This really is great news all around. Of course, countries like Mexico — where there are high levels of poverty, and an extreme lack of access to contraception or any other kind of basic health care, in many areas — are the countries where the need for legal abortion is the most dire.
Nearly all of the abortions at the public hospitals have been performed without complications, said Dr. Manuel Mondragon, the city’s top public health official. A quarter have been nonsurgical, with patients given abortion-inducing drugs.
“We know other countries are looking at us, and soon we will be publishing studies about our experience,” Mondragon said.
Abortion rights activists say Mondragon’s efforts to make abortions safe and widely available in Mexico City will be remembered as a landmark in Latin America’s reproductive rights movement.
Mondragon said making abortion legal was a crucial public health issue because of the high rates of death and injury caused by illegal abortions: According to one estimate, more than 3,500 women died from botched abortions each year.
“It hasn’t been an easy situation,” said Mondragon, 73, who says that he has received death threats and that protesters have distributed pamphlets labeling him a killer. “I am a Catholic, my family is very Catholic, and I have my personal beliefs. But when you’re in public administration, that’s one of the challenges.”
Seriously — when will you ever hear anything like that come out of an American public official’s mouth? The idea in American politics seems virtually non-existent. “I have personal feelings on whether an action is right or wrong, or whether it is a good or bad for individuals to do, but I understand that the world is not about my personal beliefs. It is not my right to impose them on anyone, but it is my job to make sure that citizens are kept safe, served equally and allowed to live freely” — this idea is truly foreign.
I personally find nothing morally questionable in the idea of abortion. Others do. And quite honestly, that’s okay. You don’t have to think that abortion is morally neutral, or think that you yourself might have one in order to be pro-choice. You just have to believe that women have the right to control their own bodies, to make their own choices, and to do so without putting themselves at risk of physical harm. I don’t think that most people — even a lot of pro-choicers, or people who are pro-choice but won’t identify as such — really get that. And if they do, they dare not speak it.
So thanks, Dr. Mondragon. You’re clearly one of the few sane ones, not to mention honest and genuinely concerned for the welfare of women.
Of course, it is now my hope that the positive outcome of legalized abortion in Mexico City will spread the idea nationally. As already noted, there are going to be many Mexican women who still do not have the money to travel to obtain an abortion. Mexico is a big country. It’s kind of the same as expecting everyone below the Mason-Dixon to go to Dallas for an abortion — if you throw in a lack of public transportation and the fact that very large portions of the population don’t own a car. I also hope that the anti-choice fears are valid, and the idea will spread throughout liberal Latin America. It would be an absolutely momentous step for women’s equality and basic health care.
On a closing note, I’d like to point out that the LA Times beginning summary of the article is rather poignant, albeit unintentionally:
Legalization of the procedure has meant a big change for pregnant women and girls. Antiabortion activists fear it will be legalized elsewhere.
I doubt that the writer/editor meant to imply a cause and effect, but he or she would have been absolutely correct and justified in doing so. And to me, that’s certainly how it reads. Legalized abortion has indeed, as it always does, made a large and positive impact on the lives of women. And anti-choicers are definitely panicked at the thought of the phenomenon spreading. Anyone who thinks for a moment that the latter is not directly related to the former is either ignorant, a fool, or both.