Revolution #197, April 4, 2010
Battle Over Abortion Raging In Mexico
On April 24, 2007 abortion in the first trimester [of a woman's pregnancy] was legalized in Mexico City, in the face of fierce opposition led by the Catholic Church in alliance with the ruling PAN (National Action Party), and including direct intervention by the Pope himself. Right away, thousands of women chose to terminate their pregnancies in safe conditions, including women who traveled from other parts of the country to have a legal abortion. Making abortion legal, while only in the first trimester, represented a breakthrough in the struggle of women for control over their own bodies, and for their liberation. It is estimated that 30,000 women had legal abortions in Mexico City in 2009 alone. In December 2009, gay marriage was legalized in Mexico City.
These developments represented a direct challenge to the reactionary movement launched by the Catholic Church, not only in Mexico but throughout Latin America, to reassert and reinforce the patriarchy, the authority of the Church, and the morality of the traditional family. In response to this challenge, a powerful backlash has been unleashed across Mexico, spearheaded by the Catholic Church together with the dominant ruling class parties, with the aim of denying women the right to control their own reproduction by completely criminalizing abortion under any circumstances.
Women Forced Into Clandestine Abortions
Until 2007 abortion was almost completely illegal anywhere in Mexico. The few exceptions—for rape, fetal deformity, or danger to the mother's life—were effectively blocked in most cases by bureaucratic delays. As the international women's reproductive rights organization Ipas (www.Ipas.org) emphasized, "Even though abortion is legal in every state of Mexico if the pregnancy is the product of rape, few women can exercise this right. The legal and health professionals that oppose abortion often create obstacles to women trying to access the procedure, and the bureaucratic barriers can be difficult to overcome in the first trimester of the pregnancy."
As a result, women have had to resort to clandestine (secret) abortions. Estimates are that 880,000 of these "back alley" or underground abortions are performed per year in Mexico, leading to 150,000 women—or 17%—hospitalized due to complications from unsanitary and unsafe procedures. [This compares with less than 0.3% of abortion patients hospitalized in the U.S.] And now the ruling political parties have taken up a counteroffensive to have abortion in Mexico under any circumstances equated with murder, punishable by imprisonment. If they are successful, women throughout Mexico will be faced with the "choice" of forced childbirth or risking imprisonment or death due to untreated complications.
Immediately following the passage of the abortion rights law the PAN filed a challenge before the Supreme Court arguing the law was unconstitutional. The attempt failed; the law was upheld by the Court in August 2008. But by then this backlash had spread throughout the country.
Beginning with states controlled by the PAN—the party of President Felipe Calderón—state legislatures started amending their constitutions to declare that "life begins at conception." The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the party which held power for 70 years until their defeat in 2000, has joined the PAN in submitting the anti-abortion amendment in the states where they hold power. The role of PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) has been contradictory. In the capital, where they are the party in power, abortion was made legal. But, at the same time, the PRD has been bending to the political winds in the rest of the country, supporting the anti-abortion amendments in the state legislatures where they've been submitted. In Chiapas, where complications due to abortion are the number one cause of death of women, the PRD governor refused to oppose the anti-abortion measure, and all 11 PRD members of the legislature voted in favor of it, which passed unanimously in December 2009. Now, in the past month, the PRD leadership nationally has called on the party to oppose bans on abortion in the states.
At this point 18 of 32 states have changed their constitutions and are enacting punishing laws against women and those who help them obtain abortions. According to the federal deputy to Congress from the PRD Claudia Elena Águila, a woman in the conservative state of Guanajuato can face a 35-year prison term if she decides to interrupt her pregnancy, and there are 165 women incarcerated at this time. [La Jornada, 3-9-10 "Exige el PRD frenar la criminalización del aborto"] Women who need emergency medical treatment for hemorrhage due to a self-induced or clandestine abortion, or even has a spontaneous miscarriage, face being turned over to authorities by doctors and/or nurses. There were 130 women imprisoned for abortion in the state of Guanajuato between 2000-2008, even before the passage of the new law, as documented by the women's group Las Libres. In Chiapas, women who have abortions must submit to psychological counseling to "restore their maternal instincts" or face prison. In Veracruz, 8 women being held for murder due to abortion were let out of prison by the governor on March 8 International Women's Day—which is a government holiday in Mexico.
In November the state of Veracruz submitted an amendment to Mexico's national Congress that proposes adding "life begins at conception" to the Mexican constitution, which would outlaw abortion throughout the country. The Congress is required to consider such amendments coming from the states. If passed, and if the proposed amendment is then ratified by three-fourths of the states, abortion anywhere in Mexico will be a crime.
Underlying Changes, and Reasserting Patriarcal Authority
As Revolution wrote following the vote legalizing abortion in Mexico City in 2007,
"Big changes have been taking place in Mexican society with the opening up of the country to much greater imperialist penetration. One result of this is that women have been driven in large numbers into the workforce, in factories and maquiladoras, where they face brutally exploitative conditions. And these women have been preyed upon and murdered, particularly in the border region of the country. Though these changes in the economic base of society have brought new forms of oppression, they have also undermined and called into question the traditional views of women's role that arose on the foundation of feudal and semi-feudal relations. This has opened up the question of women participating in society as full human beings with full rights—including the right to determine whether and when to have children—which is an absolute necessity for the emancipation of humanity. And any talk of revolution, liberation, or emancipation that leaves out one half of humanity is empty—and worse." (Abortion Decriminalized in Mexico City)
Mexico in 2010 is a pressure cooker. The complete dependence of the Mexican economy on the U.S. has meant that the global economic crisis has hit Mexico harder than any other country in Latin America. There are very high levels of unemployment and impoverishment, and the downturn in the U.S. economy, together with the border crackdown, is limiting the immigration safety valve. There's a growing crisis of legitimacy in the government. The militarization of the country championed by Calderon has only intensified the war with the drug cartels, and brought great suffering to the people, as the military systematically arrests and tortures the population upon its arrival in an area.
There is a growing concensus among different sections of Mexico's ruling classes that the reassertion of conservative religious "values," focused on the family and women's subordinate role there, is essential to the "glue" needed to maintain the unity of the nation.
The Spearhead of a Fascist Catholic Movement
The effort to criminalize abortion is the spearhead of a fascist Catholic movement, joined by Protestant evangelicals, that is working to impose traditional family values and the complete submission of women in Mexican society. As Soledad Loaeza, a professor of political science at El Colegio de Mexico, described in a recent article: "The Catholic hierarchy [in Mexico] has decided to draw a line in the sand against the modern society in Mexico. It's not their initiative, they are simply carrying out the Vatican instructions that order the defense of 'the right to life' and the concept of the traditional family. Consequently, they have unleashed an offensive that is not acting alone, it is supported by the federal government..."
A vision of what the criminalization of abortion means for the people can be seen by looking at what is happening in El Salvador and Nicaragua today, where a gynecologist must choose between allowing a woman to die or being jailed for murder if he/she helps a woman who comes to the doctor's office due to a spontaneous abortion, with hemorrhaging and contractions. Although standard medical procedure dictates that the woman should be given a drug to expel the fetus, the doctor cannot act to save the mother as long as the fetus' heart is beating. All over Latin America, the site of the most clandestine abortions in the world, the world's most draconian anti-abortion laws are being passed.
In the middle of January 2009, the Vatican's annual World Congress of Families was held in Mexico (VI Encuentro Mundial de las Familias). This is an annual meeting attended by the Pope and Catholic hierarchy from all over the world. (The pope, however, did not attend this year.) Calderón gave important impulse to the theocratic forces within the PAN (with whom he has not been traditionally closely allied) by speaking at this conference, where he stressed what he claimed were the corrosive effects of divorce on the ability of a society to fight criminality. Many commentators and legal experts pointed out that by appearing at this conference, Calderón had violated his responsibility as President to uphold the Mexican Constitution, which mandates the separation of church and state.
In Mexico, a mass social movement to support and fight for religious morality and laws is being rallied from the pulpit of Catholic churches and in Catholic schools among the youth. Organizations like Provida (Pro-Life) and Caballeros de Colón (Knights of Columbus) have organized marches under the slogan "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long Live Christ the King) against abortion, condoms and other contraceptives, gay marriage, and euthanasia and in favor of religious education in public schools. The historical roots of this movement harken back to the Cristeros, who took up arms against the Mexican government in the 1920s against the restrictions on religion applied by the state following the 1910 revolution. They were defeated in the '20s, but from that time many powerful reactionary groups have formed that are very active in Mexico today. Since the advent of the PAN presidency, there are reportedly many members of El Yunque (The Anvil) in government positions. El Yunque is a supposedly secret Catholic organization of the extreme right-wing organized among the Mexican elite. Today's marches often end with a mass singing of the old "Cristo Rey" hymn from the days of the Cristeros.
Opposition to Dark Ages Theocracy
While all three ruling parties—the PAN, the PRI and the PRD—have been involved in passing or going along with these laws, this backlash is generating important opposition among the people. In January of this year, the Mexican Academy of Sciences (AMC, Academia Mexicana de Ciencias) circulated a statement through the Internet signed by 16 former presidents of the organization. The statement was later signed by 1400 people across society broadly and published in the press. The declaration states that the protection of life from the moment of conception "undermines the political rationality of the country and threatens to cause it to regress to times that were painfully overcome a century and a half ago." This is a reference to the 1858-1862 civil war in Mexico that ended extreme clerical privileges, confiscation of the huge church landholdings, and the freeing of the indigenous people from formal slavery.
The AMC statement also declares that "the simplistic, arbitrary and poorly informed definition of life that is the basis for the specified reforms is in flagrant incompatibility with modern, multi-faceted and complex concepts of what a human being really is."
September 28 has been declared the "International Day for the Legalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean," and on that day in 2009, 1000 women marched in Mexico City united under the slogan "We are not baby machines. We are women with rights and decision" ("no somos maquinitas de reproducción somos mujeres con derecho y decision"). They demanded the legalization of abortion nationwide and the striking down of the reactionary state laws. They repudiated the meddling of the Catholic Church in the affairs of society. On that same day, 500 women marched in Oaxaca chanting "Get your rosaries off of our ovaries!" In Baja California, women went to the Office of Civil Records to request a certificate of fertilization—"acta de fecundación"—instead of a birth certificate.
In December 2009, a nationwide organization against the attacks called the National Pact for Life, Freedom and Rights of Women (Pacto Nacional de la Vida, Libertad y Derechos de las Mujeres) was formed by representatives of 990 organizations in 20 states to fight the laws, present a case before the UN, and develop different forms of opposition nationwide. An abortion fund is being created to finance low-income women who cannot afford to travel to Mexico City to have a legal abortion. On February 4, 2010, around 400 women grouped around the National Pact protested in front of the legislative palace in Mexico City. They set up three cages outside of the Camara de Diputados to represent the women who are imprisoned for seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and to demand their freedom. The National Pact plans to organize actions all over the country every first Thursday of every month to demand the legalization of abortion nationwide.
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