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Right to life … or at least 30 years

6 August 2010

In April 2007, Mexico City decriminalized first-trimester abortion within city limits. Pro-choice groups rejoiced, but the Catholic Church, which has a dominant presence in this secular country, sounded the alarm. Conservative leaders asked the Supreme Court to overturn the law. The nation watched the case closely, and in a rare act of transparency, the Supreme Court televised six public hearings in the spring of 2008. Opponents of the law, who hailed largely from the church and President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN), argued vehemently against first-trimester abortion, and Ingrid Tapia, a lawyer for a conservative women’s group, stole the show when she addressed the court in a low-slung black dress. “Is it legitimate,” she rasped, her violet eye shadow and matching fake nails glinting, “for a mother’s liberty to supersede a child’s right to life?”

Despite such pleas, the court voted 8-3 that the city’s law did not violate the Mexican constitution. At the time, everyone assumed the states would follow the capital’s lead and legalize early-term abortions, counting on the high court to back the new laws if they were challenged.

(Mary Cuddehe, The Atlantic, 29 October 2009)

In Guanajuato, where the “insurgent” PAN political machine built by Vicente Fox had became Guanajuato’s ruling party, the state legislature barely failed in an attempt to outlaw even abortions in cases of rape and incest (as in most Mexican states, the only permissible reasons for a legal abortion at the time) in 2000 . While the exception remained on the books, there was every indication that the law was being thwarted with public ministers either refusing to take rape complaints, or failing to inform victims of their rights. With the passage of Mexico City’s less restrictive abortion law (which permits abortions in the first trimester regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy), there was a backlash in several state legislatures (not only from PAN, but also from PRI). At the time, in what looked like a campaign modeled on similar campaigns in the various U.S. states, several Mexican state legislatures inserted “life begins at conception” clauses into their state constitutions, or created even stiffer criminal penalties for abortions.

Guanajuato — once better known for revolution than reaction — did both.  With predictable results.  The state has the highest percentage of teen births in Mexico, and a rising rate of maternal deaths.  And a criminal justice nightmare:

Six women are serving long prison terms in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato after being convicted of homicide for terminating their pregnancies, activists said Wednesday.

The women, all poor and with little education, have served between three and eight years of the 25- to 30-year sentences handed down by state courts…

A woman who had received a similar sentence to those that are being served by the six women for murder was released …

Of these seven cases, one was a spontaneous abortion, two others were undertaken because of rape and the rest were for accidental pregnancies…

(EFE, via Latin American Herald Tribune, 6 August 2010)

Mexican justice is often better in theory than in U.S. justice, but when Mexico is unjust, it tends towards injustice in appallingly obvious ways.  This is an imperfect society (show me one that isn’t).  Mexican women’s groups, which already have had their fill of craziness in Guanajuato, have seized on these seven women as a symbol, and through their lawyers, may be able to challenge the state’s restrictive laws in the Supreme Court on grounds that it violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection regardless of gender or social condition.

Politically, with Mexicans having consistently polled in favor of less restrictive abortion laws, and growing anger against the status quo and seeming lack of interest by the ruling party in social reform, there could be major consequences for PAN in the state elections as a result.   While Guanajuanto Governor Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez is defending the women’s imprisonment (claiming they are guilty of infanticide),  Josefina Vázquez Mota — PAN party coordinator in the Chamber of Deputies — is trying to distance the national party from the state government, issuing a tepid statement calling for the state to allow other government institutions (like the Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court) to do their job.

And, one hopes, there will be  a reconsideration of this ill-conceived attempt to politicize public health.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Frank permalink
    6 August 2010 9:13 am

    I beleive abortions are legal in Arizona.

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