Abortion is generally restricted in Mexico. This means that, although there is some legal protection, legislation differs between states, making it difficult for many women to receive safe abortion. Laws base eligibility for and legality of abortion based on the circumstances of the pregnancy. This variation in legislation between states has created a discriminatory, stigma-ridden, social and economic unjust system that bases the right to abortion on geography.
Mexico’s laws indicate the path for legal abortion. Serious risk to a woman’s life, non-consensual artificial insemination, fetal malformations, and “risky pregnancies” are considered grounds to legally terminate a pregnancy in some states. Only two states in Mexico, Yucatán and Michoacán, consider financial hardship as a legal reason for abortion. Abortion after rape is permitted in all of the country. Mexico City is the only place in the country where abortion can be performed upon request for free during the first trimester.
Despite these regulations, women commonly encounter various barriers when they want to access a legal abortion in their states, and they are not informed about their right to terminate the pregnancy. Additionally, within the health care and justice systems, there is a great deal of misinformation regarding procedures, laws and requirements. However, the Official Mexican Standard 046, known as NOM-046, which dictates the standards to prevent and deal with family, sexual and gender-based violence, was changed last month to eliminate the requirement of judicial consent to have an abortion following rape. According to this amendment, women as young as 12 years old, now can request in any public or private health care facility, an abortion certifying under oath that the pregnancy is product of sexual violence.
Although it will take time to make the legal disposition a reality in public and private hospitals, the amendment is a fundamental step towards fighting to end the cycle of violence that starts when survivors are sexually assaulted. Hopefully, health care providers soon will be aware of legal procedures and be trained to perform abortion and stop denying the service due to religious or moral beliefs that do not consider women’s well-being or their rights.
After Mexico City decriminalized abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, seventeen states reformed their constitutions to protect life from the moment of “conception”. The intention of these amendments was to prevent and obstruct decriminalization from expanding to their states, and to ultimately limit women’s sexual and reproductive rights. This has also resulted in confusion and doubts among health care providers and police; they have difficulty understanding the laws and often report women who are suspected of inducing an abortion.
While many barriers to abortion exist outside Mexico City, this has not stopped women from having an abortion when they do not want to continue a pregnancy. However, these abortions are frequently unsafe, and in some cases, fatal. This is because procedures that are performed outside of healthcare facilities, often by unskilled workers, do not meet medical standards. Furthermore, some women attempt to self-induce abortion with unsafe methods, which leaves them at high risk of suffering from both short and long term health consequences. In 2009, 36% of all Mexican women who had an unsafe abortion developed complications that needed a medical treatment, and 25% of all Mexican women who experienced abortion complications were not able to obtain the treatment they needed, which made them especially vulnerable to debilitating health repercussions.
Restricting access to abortion disproportionally impacts poor, socially marginalized and indigenous women. This is because they are not informed of their basic human rights, nor do they have the means to travel to Mexico City to receive health care. Additionally, these women are at greater risk of being deceived by unprofessional, unskilled, and unethical people who could seriously harm them. Others are forced to carry the unwanted pregnancy to term in spite of the risk it can pose to their physical and/or mental health, as well as their social and/or economical well-being. Most importantly, forcing women to continue an unwanted pregnancy is a complete violation of their wishes to not be pregnant or become a mother.
It is clearly unfair and discriminatory to obligate a woman to choose between relying on unsafe methods or traveling for hours to have a medical procedure that should be provided locally. The disparity in the laws produces and perpetuates social and economic injustice because not all women have the financial means to travel, have the time to do it, or can spend time away from their families. Between the decriminalization of abortion in April 2007 and May 2015, only 3.3 % of abortions performed in Mexico City were for women from other states. These numbers suggest that there is a great need for local policy-makers to reform the current legislation in order to care for and protect women’s lives and rights.
The fight for safe and legal abortion must continue until women’s rights are fulfilled by all 31 states of Mexico. However, women can no longer wait for authorities to make the changes they urgently need. In a country where it is estimated that 54% of unwanted pregnancies result in induced abortions, it is essential to have safe and convenient options. At safe2choose, our goal is to provide information and safe abortion pills to reduce the incidence of unsafe abortions, especially in settings where access is limited. We know women seek abortions for various reasons. Whatever those reasons may be, we are committed to making medical abortion more accessible, safer, and socially acceptable and a safe option so that for women who would like to end a pregnancy with us, it is truly safe to choose.