Revolution #198, April 11, 2010

Battle Over Abortion Raging In Mexico

On April 24, 2007 abortion in the first trimester was legalized in Mexico City, in the face of fierce opposition by the Catholic Church and President Calderon's ruling PAN (National Action Party), and including direct intervention by the Pope himself. Right away, thousands of women in the capital, and those able to get there from other parts of the country, chose to terminate their pregnancies under safe, legal conditions. 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 the Church and dominant ruling class forces have unleashed a powerful backlash 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 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 (compared to less than 0.3% in the U.S.).

Now the ruling political parties have taken up a counter-offensive to have abortion under any circumstances equated with murder, punishable by imprisonment. If they are successful, women throughout Mexico will face the "choice" of forced childbirth, prison, or risking death due to untreated complications.


Immediately after the abortion rights law was passed, 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.

The PAN started amending the constitutions in the states they controlled to declare that "life begins at conception." The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which held office for 70 years until their defeat by PAN in 2000, followed suit, submitting anti-abortion amendments in the states where they govern. The role of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) has been contradictory. They were in power in the capital when abortion was made legal. But the PRD has been bending to the political winds in the rest of the country. In Chiapas, for instance, 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 legislators voted in favor of it, which passed unanimously in December 2009. In February 2010, the PRD leadership nationally called on the party to oppose the bans.

At this point 18 of 31 states have changed their constitutions and are enacting punishing laws against women and those who help them obtain abortions. Women who need emergency medical treatment for hemorrhage due to a self-induced or clandestine abortion, or even a spontaneous miscarriage, face being turned over to authorities. According to Claudia Elena Águila, federal deputy to Congress from the PRD, a woman in the conservative state of Guanajuato can face a 35-year prison term for interrupting her pregnancy, and there are 165 women imprisoned at this time. (La Jornada, March 9, 2010. "Exige el PRD frenar la criminalización del aborto") In Chiapas, women who have abortions must submit to psychological counseling to "restore their maternal instincts" or face prison.

In November, the state of Veracruz submitted an amendment to the national Congress that proposes adding "life begins at conception" to the Mexican Constitution, which would outlaw abortion throughout the country. If passed, and then ratified by three-fourths of the states, abortion anywhere in Mexico would be a crime.

Underlying Changes, and Reasserting Patriarchal 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," #90, 5/27/07)

Mexico in 2010 is a pressure cooker. The global economic crisis has hit Mexico harder than any other country in Latin America because of the dependence of its economy on the U.S. They face 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 an intensifying crisis of legitimacy in the government, and the militarization of the country has only intensified the war with the drug cartels, and brought great suffering to the people.

The growing consensus among sections of Mexico's ruling classes toward the assertion of conservative religious "values," focused on the family and women's subordinate role there, must be viewed in this context; as an essential "glue" needed to maintain the unity of the nation.

The Spearhead of a Fascist Catholic Movement

Outlawing 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. Soledad Loaeza, a professor of political science at El Colegio de Mexico, wrote 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."

To see what it looks like where abortion equals murder, examine El Salvador and Nicaragua today, where women are dying because gynecologists can be jailed for performing abortions that would save their lives. Standard medical procedure dictates that a woman who comes to the doctor's office with a spontaneous abortion, hemorrhaging, and contractions, should be given a drug to expel the fetus. But it's a crime for the doctor to do anything to save the mother that endangers the fetus' beating heart. All over Latin America, the site of the most clandestine abortions in the world, anti-abortion laws are being passed.

In January 2009, the Vatican's annual World Congress of Families was held in Mexico. This is an annual meeting attended by the Catholic hierarchy from all over the world. President Calderón spoke at this conference, stressing what he claimed were the corrosive effects of divorce on the ability of a society to fight criminality. Commentators and legal experts pointed out that by appearing at this conference, Calderón violated his responsibility as president to uphold the Mexican Constitution, which mandates the separation of church and state.

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.

Opposition to Dark Ages Theocracy

In January of this year, the Mexican Academy of Sciences circulated a statement through the Internet and in several major newspapers signed by 16 former presidents of the organization. The AMC statement 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;" on that day in 2009, 1,000 women marched in Mexico City united under the slogan, "We are not baby machines. We are women with rights and 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. Five hundred women marched in Oaxaca chanting, "Get your rosaries off of our ovaries!" In Baja, California, women went to the Bureau of Vital Statistics to request a certificate of fertilization 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, 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. In February 2010, 400 women grouped around the National Pact protested in front of the legislative palace in Mexico City. They set up three cages to represent the women who are imprisoned. The National Pact plans to organize actions all over the country.

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