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Abortion will be non-issue

29 March 2007

Decriminalizing abortion is pretty much a done deal in the Federal District. All the U.S. based reports mention that “Mexico is a Catholic country”, which while culturally true, isn’t a particualarly enlighting statement.  According to the Archdiocese of Mexico City’s own figures, only about 10% of people attend Sunday Mass.  And how many of them are just there to keep granny happy isn’t clear.

What’s interesting is that it’s the PRI — struggling to remain relevent — and the smaller parties that introduce the progressive ideas.  It was PRI initiatives that led to gay marriage in Coahuila and the decriminalization of abortion in the Federal District was proposed in the Assembly by the PRI.  The tiny PT introduced a stronger hate crimes bill the other day, which probably won’t muster a lot of opposition either.

We’ve gotten so locked into the idea that it’s the “conservatives v. liberals” in the U.S. that we forget other country’s politics aren’t always so cut and dried.  PRD is the “left”, but that includes a lot of tradtionalists (and, if you ever want to blow your politically-bifurcated mind, consider this — fundamentalists usually vote for the far left, including Communist parties — basically because they want to preserve their minority rights against the Catholic majority.  That, and most fundamentalists are poor, rural folks).  It ain’t.  And that’s what makes the abortion protests all that more interesting.

The Cardinal of Guadalajara came up with the odd argument that legal abortions will lead to maternal deaths.  While there’s plenty of evidence that the abortion rate will drop with decriminalization (and maternal health will improve), the Cardinal’s spin is that abortion clinics, being regulated by the state, will pay bribes to health inspectors — and bribery isn’t exactly unknown — the clinics will be unsafe.  Interesting, but what’s the situation now (OK, everybody who missed “Padre Amaro” go out and rent the video)?

The anti-abortion forces seem to be depending on foreigners (from both the Vatican and the United States), at least for campaign advice.  They seem to be borrowing from the U.S. playbook, and it’s not working.

Not surprising, the Church is up-front in their opposition, but that’s expected.  What’s suprising is that the Mexican version of a “Christian right”  — or, I guess, in Mexico, the “Catholic Coalition” is Pro-Vida.  They had some influence in the Fox Administration, something like Jerry Falwell’s in Reagan’s administration, or any number of Protestant fundamentalist groups in the Republican Party.  And, like in the United States, the conservatives pay them lip service, but ignored them when it came to divvying up real power and money.  Marta Fox had ties to Pro-Vida, and, to no one’s surprise, both got caught up in bizarro scandals — Marta’s “charity” was shaking down businesses in return for “access” (a la Tom Delay), and channelling government funds to Provida, which was — even for their own funds — spending it rather oddly.  The old farts who run the group don’t need designer tangas.  Not with money meant for birth control education, anyway.

Provida is back in trouble.  This is more or less comparable to something U.S. Republicans would do, too.  Keeping the military (and the Church) out of politics has been seen as a necessity, and military officers — in uniform — at a Provida sponsored anti-abortion rally did not sit well with… anyone.   This just pissed off the PRD deputies in the Federal District, making them more likely to pass the decriminalization bill in April.

And, as to the Cardinal.  This is really interesting.  The Secretary of Health,  José Ángel Córdova Villalobos, who has some wacky ideas about public health himself (like suggesting condoms cause sexually-transmitted diseases) stated that the Federal heath care facilities can, with no trouble, provide legal abortions.


My thinking… the July 2006 elections really did shake the country up.  While the “left” supposedly lost, the three main left-wing and socialist parties (FAP coalition, PRI and Alternativa) at least control the social agenda.  What the “right” really is interested in is business.  And, even there, the right depends on some left-wing support to get anything through.  I’d watch how the new pension law shakes out (which is very much a conservative “win” — semi-privatizing state pensions, and folding the separate social security system for civil servants into the general system) is the issue to watch.

Another point:  traditionally, Mexican administrations make their mark in the first year.  They start out strong, then spend a year or two screwing around, then lose steam in the last two years. Fox unfortunately, never got anything through Congress, and made a strategic error (he only won with support from the Greens, then didn’t give them any Cabinet seats, sending the Greens into a coalition with the PRI) at the get-go.

I think what Calderón’s administration is looking at doing is getting the contentious minor issues out of the way… and then they’ll fight over the next year about the “real” business of PEMEX (I’ll bet some sleight-of-hand method is found to bring in Petrobras, as a Mexican investors), immigration and gun running/money laundering.

Mexico just doesn’t have the luxury to get worked up over side-shows like its neighbor to the north does.

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