Sunday, April 01, 2007

Legalized abortion in Mexico

Mexico City may soon legalize abortion making it the first entity in Latin America to overcome the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on this controversial issue. It will be recognition that abortion is already commonly practiced but unregulated.

This from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Dominated by liberals, Mexico City's egislature is expected to legalize abortion in a few weeks. The bill would make this city one of the largest entities in Latin America to break with a long tradition of women resorting to illegal clinics and midwives to end unwanted pregnancies.

But the measure has stirred a vicious debate and shaken this heavily Roman Catholic country to its roots. In recent days, the bill has dominated conversations from family dinner tables to the president's office. Celebrities and politicians of all stripes have lined up on both sides, throwing verbal darts at one another. Catholic and feminist groups have staged dueling protests and marches.
The contours of the debate are familiar to veterans of similar battles in the United States. But Mexico City's law would be groundbreaking in Latin America, where most countries allow abortion only under strict conditions, like when the life of the mother is in danger or when she is a victim of rape or incest. Only in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guyana can women have abortions for any reason during the first trimester. Three countries — Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador — ban it without exception.

The Mexico City bill would make it legal to have an abortion during the first trimester for any reason. The procedure would be free at city health facilities. Private hospitals would be required to provide an abortion to any woman who asks for one, though doctors with religious or ethical objections would not be required to perform abortions.

Catholic leaders and church officials have denounced the proponents as "baby killers" and have warned that the law could provoke violence against doctors who agree to provide the service. A group of Catholic lawyers are pushing for a citywide referendum on the issue, hoping to avert the vote in the city Legislative Assembly.

The debate in Mexico threatens to revive tensions between President Felipe Calderón, a conservative who opposes abortion, and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, whose candidate narrowly lost the election last year and still refuses to concede.

Calderón has tried to stay above the fray, but he said last week, "I am in defense of life." His health minister and other surrogates in the conservative National Action Party, however, are in the thick of it. They have proposed streamlining adoption laws, improving sex education and providing subsidies to unwed mothers as alternatives.

Leftists and feminists, meanwhile, have accused opponents of turning a blind eye to reality. They say millions of women here, and indeed throughout much of Latin America, already ignore the law and choose to abort fetuses, often in dingy underground clinics or the private homes of midwives. They risk infection, sterility and sometimes death.

"Women are dying, above all poor women, because of unsafe abortions," said María Consuelo Mejía, the director of Catholics for the Right to Decide. "What we would like is that these women never have to confront the necessity of an abortion, but in this society it's impossible right now. There is no access to information, to contraceptives. Nor do most women have the power to negotiate the use of contraceptives with their partners."

Many women here are watching the political battle with a mix of trepidation and hope. Like many laws in Mexico, the abortion law is honored as much in its breach as its observance.

Government officials estimate at least 110,000 women a year seek illegal abortions in Mexico, and many abortion rights groups say the number is much higher. At least 88 women died in 2006 from botched abortions, the Health Ministry says, though it is far from clear that all cases were reported.

For the well off, it is common knowledge that certain gynecologists perform illegal abortions in private hospitals, disguising the procedure as something else on documents.
For the poor, unwanted pregnancies often mean finding a midwife or an underground clinic, abortion rights advocates say. Some young women also resort to huge doses of drugs for arthritis and gastritis, available over the counter, that can cause miscarriages. Others use teas made from traditional herbs to cause miscarriages. All of these methods carry dangers.
You may read the complete article here.

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