Reproductive Rights in Mexico: Get Your Rosaries Out of Our Ovaries

Image: Flickr

by Lucy Little

On the 28th September, the streets of Merida were filled with banners, green scarves and hopeful protesters, fighting to change the law on abortion here in the state of Yucatan. As part of the demonstration, feminist organisations vandalised parts of the city centre, most notably the Monument to the Mother (Monumento a la Madre). Covering it in pro-choice slogans such as ‘será ley’ (it will be the law), ‘aborto legal y seguro ya’ (legal and safe abortion now), and ‘saquen sus rosarios de nuestros ovarios’ (get your rosaries out of our ovaries). This act caused controversy in the state and the graffiti has now disappeared, however the ongoing fight for the autonomy of women’s bodies, has not.

Image: https://sipse.com/novedades-yucatan/retauracion-monumento-maternidad-merida-costo-inah-346014.html

It was only after seeing the newly adorned monument whilst wandering through the city centre one day, I realised that I didn’t have autonomy over my own body. I was exposed to the constant state of insecurity many women in Mexico and in Latin America feel on a daily basis. I was somewhat aware of the situation of reproductive rights in Latin America, yet in my position of privilege, I had not reflected on how this really feels. Sex education is lacking here and many young people do not have access to birth control or the knowledge that it is readily available to them.

Abortion laws vary greatly by state in Mexico, depending on the political situation in each place. Abortion is currently legal for any woman in the first trimester in the federal entity of Mexico City, and most recently, in the state of Oaxaca, however this decision was controversial and was met by cries of ‘killers’ by passionate pro-lifers. These protesters were primarily there for religious reasons. This is a wildly liberal stance on abortion compared to many other Latin-American countries such as Argentina, Venezuela and Guatemala, to name but a few. Before this law was put in place, illegal abortions were the 3rd largest cause of maternal deaths in Oaxaca, according to Magaly Lopez, a local representative for the political party Morena.

Image: Yucatan Times

All Mexican states permit abortion in the case of rape in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and 29 out of 32 states allow termination of pregnancy if it will save the mothers life. In the remaining 3 states women can be held criminally responsible for homicide if found having an abortion. In some cases, particularly in more religious states, women can be prosecuted and sentenced for miscarrying if it is not explicit that it was unintentional. In one case, only a few years ago, an indigenous Mexican woman from Guerrero was sentenced to 27 years in prison for miscarrying after being accused by her own father of having intentionally aborted the foetus. Sadly, this is common and frequently goes under-reported.

Under half of Mexican states allow for the termination of pregnancy in situations where the birth will result in severe foetal abnormalities, and only 2 permit abortion on the grounds of financial instability. Shockingly, this will only be granted if the woman in question has already had 3 children. This perpetuates the narrative that women are only permitted control of their own bodies once they have ‘contributed’ something to society.  With the typically low income people receive here, and taking into account the gender pay gap, I would reckon that even raising one child would be enough to break the bank.

Illegal abortions are unsurprisingly common across the country, some in extremely unsafe circumstances. Undergoing a clandestine abortion is dangerous, not just physically, but also socially; many risk being ostracized from their families and communities. There is also the cost to consider. As with many social topics in Mexico those most at risk are those on a low income, those with a lesser level of education, and indigenous communities.

I was going to end this article by saying how incredible it is in England. Moreover, now across the UK following the recent success of Northern Island, we have access to the comparably exceptional reproductive and sexual health care that we do. But on further reflection, it is not ‘incredible’, it is a fundamental human right that so many people are denied. I have been lucky enough to meet many strong and passionate Mexican women who are fighting for this issue and my heart aches for the millions of women and girls that this has affected and for those who it will continue to affect if their cries are not heard.

 

Study Abroad Columnist: Lucy Georgina Little, 3rd year BA French and Spanish Undergraduate. Currently undertaking British Council Teaching Assistantship in Merida, Mexico.