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A debate over a woman's right to choose divides Mexico's capital from the countryside.
What’s less clear is just how much support the states’ constitutional amendments have among citizens, and women in particular. Daptnhe Cuevas Ortiz, director of the pro-choice Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equality, suggests that while many Mexicans may personally reject abortion there is little support for criminalizing the act.
“People have shown that they wholly reject that a woman go to prison for an abortion,” she said. “That’s different from people saying they want to protect life. That women who decide to abort have the right to do it and not go to prison, on that there is absolute consensus.”
Political parties on the right and left remain internally divided on the issue. Legislators in the 18 states supporting the stringent new laws have come from Mexico’s three main parties: the PAN on the right, the PRI in the center and the PRD on the left.
Women who have the means are now making their way by the thousands to Mexico City — not just from other Mexican states but also from other Latin American countries. Abortion is either totally prohibited or highly restricted in every Latin American country except Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guyana, according to GIRE, a Mexico-based nonprofit advocacy group for reproductive rights.
Some 34,351 women have sought legal abortions in the capital since 2007, according to GIRE.
Dr. Ana Maria Camarillo runs a Mexico City clinic that performs an average of five abortions a day. Her Center for Integrative Attention for Couples has received women from every Mexican state, as well as women from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Colombia.
But the political change has translated slowly into cultural openness, even in Mexico City. Camarillo says she encourages her patients to speak out and talk with other women, so that their voices may be heard.
For Camarillo it's a given that the debate over a woman’s right to choose must be had at the national level: as it stands, the law does not treat all Mexican women equally.
Fondo Maria, an organization founded last June, tries to mitigate the differences by providing financial and emotional support for women who want to come to Mexico City for an abortion. Last year it brought 50 women to the capital from outlying states, including a 12-year-old girl who had been raped and a 43-year-old woman who hadn’t the resources to raise a child.
“The point is that women are going to keep deciding” regardless of whether abortion is labeled a criminal act, said Oriana Lopez, coordinator of Fondo Maria.
The woman who chose to abort her unplanned pregnancy on her own — and did so in defiance of the law — said she took the pills despite her fears and according to her friend’s indications: three orally, three vaginally. Painful cramps gripped her immediately, and she bled for nearly 20 days.
She survived the abortion without complications. But every year 149,700 women end up hospitalized for problems associated with such unpredictable abortion home remedies and 100 — nearly two per week — die from the clandestine abortions.
“I never thought about whether the law would support me or not,” she said. “I simply decided.”