Mexico City’s legislative assembly has voted to legalise abortion in the city, the capital of the world’s second-largest Roman Catholic country.
Lawmakers voted 46 to 19 in favour of the bill that will permit abortions of pregnancies in the first 12 weeks.
Mexico City previously allowed abortion only in cases of rape, if the woman’s life was at risk or if there were signs of severe defects in the foetus.
There are an estimated 200,000 illegal abortions in Mexico each year.
Of women who opt for illegal procedures, at least 1,500 women die during botched operations performed in unhygienic backstreet clinics.
Many victims of rape are denied access to legal abortion, a Human Rights Watch report said last year. [available here – mb]
This very welcome victory for reproductive freedom did not come about without struggle, nor is the fight over. Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Bishops in the mostly-Catholic nation prior to the vote, imploring Mexicans to oppose the legalization of abortion in Mexico City, according to the BBC. And, as Reuters reports, the pontiff’s call was heeded by some:
Riot police kept rival groups of rowdy demonstrators apart outside the city’s assembly building. Weeping anti-abortion protesters played tape recordings of babies crying and carried tiny white coffins.
Church leaders threatened to excommunicate leftist deputies, mostly from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, who voted in favor of lifting the abortion ban, which will remain in force in the rest of the country.
Prior to today’s vote, the only other countries in Latin America sanctioning abortion-on-demand to women were Cuba and Guyana. Advocates for abortion in the region still face stiff resistance from religious and political elites under sway of a powerful religious lobby (though the past several years have brought incremental shifts). But preventing a legal avenue for women to procure a vital medical procedure doesn’t eliminate the practice.
Marianne Mollmann of Human Rights Watch wrote an op-ed last May for the LA Times detailing her experiences in Latin American countries where the reproductive rights of women are severely restricted, forcing many to put themselves at risk of both legal and lethal consequences:
“What do I care if abortion is legal or illegal?” Marcela E. told me in 2004 in Argentina, where abortion generally is banned. “If I have to do it, I have to do it.” The 32-year-old mother of three had a clandestine abortion after her husband raped her.
A community organizer in Argentina told me: “You will not believe what women end up putting in their uteruses to abort.” I wish I didn’t.
I have spoken to women who used knives, knitting needles, rubber tubes, even pieces of wood to pry open their uteruses. Some got access to abortive medicines that in theory lower the possibility of direct infection but that caused serious complications when they took them without medical assistance. Affluent women suffered fewer traumatic ordeals, often traveling to the U.S. for the procedure or sneaking off to upscale private Latin America clinics where, on paper, they had surgery for appendicitis.
…[V]ery few, if any, women get such “non-punishable” abortions because there are no clear procedures. Fearing that they’d be charged with a crime, many of the women I interviewed who might have qualified for a legal abortion because they had been raped or because their health was endangered by the pregnancy did not dare to out themselves as potential abortion candidates. They went straight for the illegal and mostly unsafe back-alley abortions. A large proportion of maternal mortality in Latin America is caused directly by the consequences of such unsafe abortions.
All this–the ongoing struggle, the callous disregard for the human rights of women, the consequences of denying access to safe, legal abortion–should be kept in mind as the US continues to pick the bones of Roe v. Wade.