Sarah DeVries
A faceoff between abortion supporters and opponents. A faceoff between abortion supporters and opponents.

Mexican women are not without defenders of reproductive rights

But pro-life movement here closely resembles that of the US

After reading last week about Oaxaca’s vote on legislation to legalize abortion, I wrote about my thoughts on punishing the women who had allegedly had abortions.

Happily, abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy was indeed legalized, making Oaxaca the second state in the country to do so. This of course has been faced with immediate and predictable challenges from the usual suspects, but at least for now Oaxaca seems poised to move “complications from illegal abortions” down quite a few rungs on the ladder from its current place at No. 3 among causes of death.

I celebrate with and for the women of Oaxaca, and hope that other states will soon follow suit. No woman deserves to be jailed for exerting control over her own body. The myth of flippant, slutty women running off to the clinic for endless abortions after irresponsible and thoughtless sex is pervasive. The fact that so many women, however, are willing to risk their lives and freedom to procure an abortion tells a very different story.

For this second article in my two-part piece, I’d like to discuss the contours of the pro-life and pro-choice movements in Mexico, and the surprisingly strong influence that United States-style movements exert here in Mexico.

Let’s start with the positive: though they’re not the majority, the women of Mexico are not without defenders and promoters of their reproductive rights. One such organization is GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), which works to educate women and girls, support reproductive health and decriminalize abortion.

Another, Las Libres is based in Guanajuato, one of the most conservative states when it comes to abortion, and works to promote women’s human rights and ensure that the laws already on the books are effectively implemented.

Unlike some of the various large pro-life organizations active in Mexico, most reproductive rights organizations seem to be homegrown.

Close observers might notice that the pro-life movement here closely resembles the pro-life movement in the U.S., and this is no accident. Conservative thought-leaders promote the idea of “exporting abortion” as a form of U.S. imperialism, a ludicrous and tired argument that’s easily disproved. We actually are, however, exporting our strategies for shaming women into not having abortions even when they legally have the choice to do so.

At clinics where abortions are legally performed in Mexico City, for example, “crisis pregnancy centers” set up tables outside, often with similar uniforms, and do “intake” for those heading into the clinic. These booths, vans or sites that women are sometimes later driven to are made to look like family planning clinics; billboards promote their existence and mislead women about the kinds of places they really are.

“Documentaries” of women traumatized and remorseful about their abortions are shown. And who can forget the requisite “miracle of life” videos followed by scenes of graphic, bloody abortions?

Sounds familiar, right? One activist organization that sent women in regularly (who were not pregnant) said they were always told they were pregnant and shown “ultrasounds” of highly-developed fetuses that could not possibly be at the gestational age they supposedly were. (For an excellent read on how the U.S. pro-life movement influences their Mexican counterpart, check out the excellent article from The Nation, “Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style”).

While the pro-life movement likes to label the other side as “pro-abortion,” the reality is that no one is gleefully jumping for joy at the thought of women ending their pregnancies. No matter what side of the argument you fall on, it’s in all our interests to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

The oft-recommended advice to “close your legs” is not a reasonable or effective solution. Can we just agree that women are humans that also have sex drives? Also, as a clever meme recently put it, one could spend a lifetime with her legs spread without getting pregnant . . . it’s almost as if some other element were needed, right?

All joking aside, it’s important for us to remember that as promiscuous and “immoral” as a woman could possibly be perceived to be, pregnancy is only possible, on average, once a year. A man, on the other hand, could theoretically impregnate a different woman every day, and possibly even more often. Could it be that we’re worrying too much about the wrong side of the equation here?

Women, of course, are the ones who inevitably suffer the consequences of a pregnancy. There’s the risk to one’s life as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, of course, and then the supporting of another human being as they grown into an adult — no short order.

At least compared to the U.S. I feel Mexico does a fairly good job at making birth control available. But we need to do better, especially in smaller communities, and especially with teenage girls and boys.

Pairing free health services with robust sexual education in the curriculum would help us promote sexual health and responsibility as a social good, and might even give the culture of sexual machismo a few needed dents.

In the meantime, we need to keep working for the right of women to exercise full control over their bodies, publicly and privately. Sanctity of life? A mí no me engañan (They don’t fool me).

If you love the potential for life inside a stranger’s womb but feel nothing but disdain and contempt for the stranger herself, there’s more to it than selflessly caring about a developing life in the womb.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Reader forum