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Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathryn Joyce for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and originally published in the September 16 issue of The Nation.

Anti-choice activists hand a small child propaganda material in Mexico City.

On May 1, a familiar anti-abortion story line played out on Azteca 13, a popular television channel in Mexico. In the opening scenes of an episode of Lo Que Callamos Las Mujeres (What We Women Keep Silent), a Lifetime-like telenovela series about “real-life” stories, a pretty brunette with a heart-shaped face, Alondra, discovers she is pregnant when overtaken by a sudden bout of morning sickness. Her sister Sofía is concerned, but later that night, when Alondra’s boorish boyfriend comes home and she breaks the news, he asks if it’s his, then tells her to abort.

Alondra complies and, in a series of hazy scenes, visits a clandestine abortion provider. But she’s haunted by what she has done, and is awoken at night by phantom baby cries that send her searching throughout her apartment until she collapses on the living room floor, her white pajama bottoms soaked through with blood. Her illegal abortion was botched, it turns out, and by terminating her pregnancy, a doctor tells her sister, she has forfeited her fertility as well. Some weeks later, Alondra’s boyfriend is accosted on the street by another woman, also pregnant by him, who begs him to acknowledge his future child. Sheepishly, he does, shrugging as he tells Alondra, “I’m going to be a papa,” before walking out the door to be with the other woman—the one who didn’t abort.

The message seems clear enough, but the story doesn’t end there. Two years later, when Alondra meets a good man who wants a family, she pushes the memory of the abortion out of her mind. In a state of manic delusion, she experiences a hysterical pregnancy, her belly swelling with her hopes, until Sofía forces her to see a doctor and Alondra breaks down, confronted with her unresolved grief. As Alondra again lies in a hospital bed, two years wiser and infinitely sadder, the doctor hands her a pamphlet. On its back cover, facing the camera, is the logo of the Instituto para la Rehabilitación de la Mujer y la Familia, or IRMA, a Mexican Catholic ministry that offers counseling for women suffering “post-abortion syndrome”—the medically unrecognized claim that terminating a pregnancy leads to serious psychological trauma.

The May episode of Lo Que Callamos was one of several instances in which IRMA was invited to suggest a “true-life” story line for the show, broadcasting to millions of viewers its message that abortion causes devastating harm to women and their families. One episode alone had generated some 200 calls and 400 emails to IRMA in a single day, said María del Carmen Alva López, IRMA’s president and founder, when I met her last October.

“They take a real story from us, a real history, and then at the end the lady goes to IRMA and receives help,” explained Alva, a cheerful 42-year-old with beauty-pageant poise. In a lush Mexico City suburb full of gated houses, Alva sat me down on a pleather loveseat in IRMA’s small, stucco-walled counseling room. The bookshelves outside were lined with copies of Alva’s book, Y después del aborto, ¿que? (And After the Abortion, What?), and in her hands she held a thick binder containing the results of a survey of 135 clients. Of these 135 “post-abortive” women, said Alva, her smile dimming and her eyes heavy with sympathy, IRMA estimates that 70 percent have clinical depression and 10 percent have attempted suicide. Results like these, she says, prove that post-abortion syndrome is real.

That these numbers are gathered from a self-selecting group of women who have sought out IRMA’s services doesn’t dampen Alva’s conviction that all Mexican women need to hear how abortion can hurt them. They especially need to hear it now, Alva believes. It’s been six years since first-trimester abortions were decriminalized in Mexico’s Distrito Federal, home to Mexico City, and more and more Mexican women are gradually learning about their limited right to choose—although abortion rights advocates fear this message hasn’t yet made its way to provincial, working-class women.

In this atmosphere, the claims about post-abortion syndrome and other supposed risks advanced by groups like IRMA are having real effects. According to Dr. Raffaela Schiavon, director of the Mexican chapter of the international abortion rights group Ipas and a former OB-GYN who served in Mexico’s Ministry of Health, a 2012 study suggests that Mexican women decide whether or not to have an abortion based not on their religion, politics, or socioeconomic status, but rather on their fears that an abortion will hurt or kill them. The main difference for women, said Schiavon, is whether or not they’ve received information that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, depression, or suicide—exactly the information IRMA is helping to spread around the nation.

“They’ve gotten out the message that abortion is unsafe and dangerous,” Schiavon said. Ironically, she added, “That is the case when it’s illegal.”

When Mexico City’s law changed in 2007, allowing elective abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it was a substantial victory for reproductive rights advocates in a country, and a region, where the Catholic Church dominates daily life. Across Latin America, access to legal abortion is a rarity, and in 2007, all eyes turned to Mexico City to see how the experiment would play out—and whether it could be replicated. To date, only Uruguay has followed Mexico City in liberalizing its abortion law, and this June, the world watched as El Salvador denied a lifesaving abortion to a woman known as Beatriz for five months before finally allowing a c-section delivery for the nonviable fetus.

After decriminalization, however, a fierce backlash unfurled across Mexico. In the first three years, half of the country’s 31 provinces passed new constitutional amendments enshrining abortion bans—two of which were just upheld by Mexico’s Supreme Court this May. As a result of the amendments passed after 2007 in 18 Mexican states, women in the provinces are increasingly being prosecuted for “attempted abortion,” often reported by hospital staff when they seek help after self-abortions, unsupervised use of the medical abortion drug misoprostol, or unsafe back-alley terminations.

Regina Tames, a lawyer and executive director of the reproductive rights advocacy group GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), worked with several of the dozens of women being prosecuted for attempted abortion in 2012. If convicted, some of these women could face up to six years in jail, while others would be sentenced to fines or community service. Many were already condemned in their communities after newspapers printed their pictures and identified them as criminals and baby killers.

In Mexico’s so-called Rosary Belt, a band of ultraconservative states like Jalisco and Guanajuato in the center of the nation, anti-abortion advocates and other traditionalists are embracing U.S.-style culture war tactics and rhetoric. Conservative Mexican Catholics have mobilized across the provinces to Catholicize public school education, block public health announcements for condoms, and even destroy public school books that contain comprehensive sex ed. Some anti-abortion activists have marched under a powerful old symbol: the flag of the 1920s Cristero War, which pitted devout Catholics against a secularizing government that persecuted religious expression. The bloody conflict resulted in atrocities on both sides, including priests being executed among their flocks—some since canonized as martyrs of the faith—and a 2012 film about the war has resonated with conservatives in both Mexico and the United States. (U.S. Catholic commentator George Weigel recently went so far as to compare the contraception mandate in Obamacare to the legacy of the persecuted Cristeros.) Waving the flag now helps cast the terms of Mexico’s current abortion debate as a new clash in an ongoing war over religious freedom. Some abortion rights advocates say there’s a sense that today’s Mexican right “has the Cristero spirit again.”

Next to the harsh penalties of criminalization and the simmering threat of culture war, groups like IRMA and its peers seem to offer a softer, gentler approach to the anti-abortion cause. When I spoke with María del Carmen Alva López, she was preparing to meet with the ministry’s partners at Vifac, a nearby maternity home that houses women who have been convinced not to abort. Both IRMA and Vifac count themselves as part of a network of anti-abortion groups in Mexico, along with a proliferating number of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that are adopting the same ostensibly women-centered focus that has marked the modern U.S. anti-abortion movement.

On a sunny day in October, a 29-year-old Mexican-American woman named Katia walked into a CPC in the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Anzures, explaining that she thought she might be pregnant. After Katia entered and gave her name, she was taken to a back room by a Catholic volunteer, who asked her why she didn’t want her baby. If she was pregnant, the volunteer suggested, she should marry her boyfriend or, barring that, accept the center’s offer of a place to stay where her parents wouldn’t have to know. The CPC staffers told Katia that they would perform an ultrasound to show her the fetus, but first she was legally obligated to watch a video: a four-part movie starting with the miracle of life and proceeding to a graphic abortion, interspersed with testimony from women who had variously given birth to their babies and were happy, or who had chosen abortion and were devastated. When a CPC staffer who claimed to be a nurse finally performed the ultrasound, she puzzled at length over the image on the screen before suggesting that Katia was probably seven-and-a-half weeks pregnant. When she left, they handed her a lollipop.

Katia’s experience would be nothing out of the ordinary in heartland America, where CPCs have been a fixture since the 1960s. What’s new is that this model has been exported to Mexico, where anti-abortion groups have established more than 40 CPCs in recent years.

Frequently posing as medical facilities, and often located right next door to actual abortion clinics, CPCs function by attracting women with free pregnancy tests and implied offers of abortion services, only to ambush them with graphic videos, intensive anti-abortion coercion, and strategic misinformation. (Some in the United States have even been sanctioned for fraud.) Now, thanks to the expanding reach of American evangelical and Catholic anti-abortion activists, CPCs are becoming important players in the abortion debates overseas, in countries as varied as Ethiopia, Israel, Serbia, and South Africa. Mexico is just one of the 47 nations where Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion network based in Ohio, now has partner centers. Heartbeat International, which represents more than 1,000 similar centers in the United States and 1,800 groups worldwide, has partnered with a Spanish-language website to track and promote Mexican CPCs as well. In fact, it was Heartbeat International’s website that had listed the Mexico City CPC that Katia—who was actually my translator—visited.

In Mexico, the history of CPCs (in Spanish, centros de ayuda para mujeres, or CAMs) begins with Jorge Serrano Limón, founder of the early Mexican anti-abortion group National Pro-Life Committee, or ProVida. In 1989, Serrano Limón traveled to New Orleans for a conference put on by Human Life International (HLI), an American group whose ultraconservative Catholic founder, the late Father Paul Marx, charged that Jews control the abortion “industry.” In Louisiana, Serrano Limón (who has his own unsavory connections with a Nazi-sympathizing Mexican historian) met HLI staff and CPC founders who inspired him to set up his own center in Mexico, fighting abortion before it was even legal.

Serrano Limón fell into disgrace in the mid-2000s, as ProVida became the focus of an embarrassing embezzlement scandal known as “Tanga-Gate” (Thong-Gate)—in which government funds meant to buy ultrasound equipment were instead spent on unauthorized purchases, including women’s clothing and thong underwear. Pro-choice activists gleefully took the opportunity to protest Serrano Limón’s appearances by waving cheap thongs at him in public. But HLI continued to sponsor Mexican and Latin American CAMs.

Greg Berger, a U.S.-born documentary filmmaker living in Mexico, made a film about Mexico’s CAMs in 2008, El Derecho de Decidir en Paz (The Right to Choose in Peace). Implicit in the centers’ rise was a tactical shift: from Mexico’s version of noisy clinic protests—amplified sessions of praying the rosary directed at entering patients—to appearing instead to offer women help in making an informed choice. “I think they found that it was much better to pretend that they were providing information about abortions,” Berger says, “a much better technique than the fetus-in-a-jar model.”

After Tanga-Gate, ProVida seemed to take another lesson from the United States, where women have risen to leadership positions in the anti-abortion movement, when it named a female president, Rocío Gálvez, whose promotion was announced while she was pregnant. “She was [presented as] a pregnant woman who was proud to bring life,” recalled Eugenia López Uribe, a radical young activist who is executive coordinator of the sexual rights group Balance, which works on both reproductive and LGBT rights.

This shift not only mirrored the U.S. anti-abortion movement’s trajectory but also marked a moment when U.S. partners began exerting more influence. At Gálvez’s inauguration celebration in an expensive Mexico City hotel, recalls López Uribe, the featured speakers were all from the United States, and the organizers even screened an anti-abortion video clearly made in the States and featuring an African-American baby.

Since Serrano Limón’s first CPC, Mexican CAMs have grown to several dozen and today claim to have served some 60,000 women and prevented 51,000 abortions. Mostly, the CAMs approach women as they’re heading into clinics or hospitals. Ever since Mexico City’s decriminalization in 2007, CAMs have been setting up small booths on the walkways into clinics, amid stands vending candy and food for hospital visitors. With a banner overhead offering information about abortion, the stands intentionally appear as an official part of the hospital’s intake procedure. If women stop, CAM staffers try to transport them to their remote centers, luring them to a van with the promise of a safer, cleaner, and faster abortion clinic nearby.

For women in a city where abortion is newly legal—an island of access in a country devoid of it—the CAMs’ message is disorienting. The advertisements for these “crisis centers,” including posters along Mexico City streets, make the same ambiguous offer that can be seen in New York City subway cars: “If you’re pregnant, we can help.”

“The message [of decriminalization] has not arrived to the most vulnerable, poorest, least-educated women,” says Ipas’s Raffaela Schiavon, who suspects that most working-class migrant women, often serving as domestics for Mexico City’s elite, aren’t aware of their rights and are therefore the most likely to be taken in.

Women who go with the CAM volunteers are likely to experience the same protocol that has been extensively documented in the United States. They are shown graphic videos about how aborted fetuses cry for their mothers. They are given a letter to read “from a fetus,” forgiving its mother for aborting. They are invited to stay with the CAM’s partner maternity home.

“They have all these choices,” says López Uribe: “‘What are you scared of? That your family will find out? Perfect—we’ll send a letter that you were accepted to a school, and we will take you to the [maternity] house and nobody will ever know.’” In her OB-GYN practice, Schiavon says she sometimes encountered new mothers who came to the hospital from provincial maternity homes, where they’d been cloistered away from family and friends and hadn’t felt free to leave.

But even for women who know to avoid the CAM booths, their very presence undermines the culture of safe access that advocates are trying to foster in Mexico City. “We’re trying to build an environment of rights—that we have this law and that you can exercise your rights,” López Uribe says. “When you have to tell [patients], ‘If you see this stand, don’t go to it, go straight; don’t pay attention to the people praying,’ it makes them feel like they’re doing something wrong.”

It’s no coincidence that the Spanish-language pamphlets that the CAMs hand out bear the exact same pictures of mangled fetuses as the anti-abortion protest signs on the Washington Mall. On the back of one gory leaflet collected by López Uribe’s group Balance, a black-and-white tract with images of dismembered second-trimester fetuses under the caption “human trash,” there is listed, in small type, the name and address of its publisher—in Cincinnati, Ohio. And when Mexican women show up at a CAM, it’s often an American movie they see: a subtitled version of the gruesome anti-abortion classic The Silent Scream.

To Mexico’s pro-choice community, the ties between the Mexican and U.S. anti-abortion movements are so blatant as to be self-evident. There is funding flowing from North to South, but probably more important is the wholesale migration of the U.S. anti-abortion model. “Serrano Limón went and took courses in the United States, networked, and got ready,” explained Sofía Román Montes, coordinator at the pro-choice group Equidad de Género. “He used tactics from the U.S.: The Silent Scream, the screaming at women, the vans with ultrasounds. That was all from the United States. Nothing is made here.”

Well, there might be one part of the Mexican CAMs that is indigenous, a sort of local twist. Though my translator Katia emerged from her visit to the CAM with the suggestion that she was nearly two months pregnant, the ultrasound reading was false: Katia was not pregnant. According to Mexican reproductive rights groups, such false diagnoses by CAMs are routine, with widespread reports of women being shown ultrasound images of fetuses far more advanced than they could possibly be carrying—for example, a woman early in her first trimester being shown images from a late-second-term pregnancy—as well as numerous instances of women who were not pregnant being shown an ultrasound of their “baby.”

Abortion rights advocates believe that the CAMs are showing prerecorded videos instead of actual ultrasounds. When a non-pregnant student working with Balance went to a clinic, she was shown an ultrasound image of a 13-week-old fetus. And Equidad de Género’s Román Montes seconded the experience: every time she’s sent employees into CAMs undercover, she says, “all of our workers come out pregnant, too.”

* * *

Like the CAMs, María Del Carmen Alva López’s group IRMA was similarly inspired by the U.S. anti-abortion movement. Twenty-five years ago, Alva conducted her college thesis work on U.S. anti-abortion movement leaders, interviewing many at Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s official post-abortion ministry, which has chapters in more than 110 U.S. dioceses. Alva dreamed of setting up her own group in Mexico. After a colleague in Monterrey offered to translate Project Rachel’s materials for her, she started her own organization and assembled a team of counselors.

Today, IRMA offers individual counseling and special Bible-study weekend retreats for women who have had abortions, modeling their therapy on a support group manual written and sold by Rachel’s Vineyard—another U.S. organization that takes its name from the biblical Rachel, who mourns her dead children, this one founded by the New York-based anti-abortion group Priests for Life. On Rachel’s Vineyard’s website, IRMA is listed as the group’s Mexican partner.

Last year, an official of Human Life International spoke of visiting “as many key players as possible” to help coordinate the fight against Mexico’s “culture of death.” HLI also sponsored the creation of a large-scale, online anti-abortion resource site in Latin America. The Knights of Columbus send money. And on it goes.

Reproductive rights advocates say that with this support, the anti-abortion movement in Mexico has built a strong advocacy network to rival that of feminist NGOs, growing beyond the initial activism of the Catholic Church and ProVida to a coalition of hundreds, with new groups sprouting up “like mushrooms.” One “pro-family” leader in Mexico, Red Familia, aligns hundreds of partner organizations on a shared traditionalist platform. Red Familia is itself part of a larger network, the American-based global conservative coalition called the World Congress of Families. The WCF is an interfaith right-wing group that condemns the international expansion of abortion and LGBT rights as a form of U.S. cultural imperialism, forcing decadent liberal social mores on allegedly orthodox, traditional nations.

It seems like a laughable accusation, given conservatives’ own abundant overseas networking, but it’s a familiar argument to filmmaker Berger, who was inspired to make his 2008 film on CAMs by the frustrating popularity of the charge that abortion rights are a form of “Yankee imperialism” aimed at limiting Latino birth rates. There’s a reason why the story has appeal: The shameful history of abusive population control measures enacted on the developing world, often by U.S. groups or with U.S. money, give potency to the claim that abortion rights are a form of contemporary eugenics being forced by Americans onto a life-loving Catholic people. But what Berger found instead was that the reverse was true. While Mexico’s Catholicism may be indisputable, the recipe for its “pro-vida” movement was the true U.S. export: its leaders trained and supported in the United States, its activism model a mirror image of the U.S. one.

Mexican women, on the other hand, have needed and obtained abortions since long before colonialism. “The desire for a woman to end her pregnancy when she doesn’t want to carry to term isn’t an import from the U.S.,” said Berger. “That’s something that women go through every day and is a personal experience—not somehow imported from abroad.”

Nor is Mexico’s Catholic heritage everything that the “pro-vida” activists claim. In an attempt to counter IRMA’s widely broadcast message, the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice-Mexico has begun airing a short, regular animation series, Catolicadas, on a TV news program, advancing the idea that being a good Catholic can include supporting reproductive rights.

For some Mexican pro-choice advocates, that heritage—and the different tradition of Catholicism they practice—is already the backbone of their activism. A woman I’ll call Ramona, an abortion provider working illegally in the state of Morelos, says it was precisely growing up Catholic in Morelos—a cradle of Mexico’s liberation theology movement in the 1970s and ’80s—that made her pro-choice. She can recall the moment when a Catholic teacher in her radical church asked the class whether they thought it was acceptable for a woman to have an abortion. The students were told to answer by moving to one side of the room or the other, and Ramona found herself alone on her side.

Though abortion rights were anathema to Catholic doctrine, Ramona said, everything else the church had taught her about the fight for justice convinced her that it was right for a woman to be able to choose, and that other Catholics might come to see that. “Jesus, for me, was another person fighting for justice. It’s why it’s easy for me to be where I am. It was a chance to say the struggle is here in the world, not in heaven.”

For more from this issue of The Nation, click here.

Image worldfocusonline / YouTube

The Power of Pills: Putting Abortion Back in the Hands of Women Around the World

4:02 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Leila Hessini and Alyson Hyman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A collection of different pills

As governments force clinics out of business, pill-based abortions offer freedom of choice to women.

Unwanted pregnancies are a fact of life. Globally, nearly a fourth of all pregnancies are unplanned and 22 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Women experience unwanted pregnancies because they have forced sex, (worldwide, one in three women are survivors of sexual violence), they don’t have access to contraceptives, or they simply didn’t plan on becoming pregnant.

Women who have unwanted pregnancies should be respected and their rights to choice upheld. However, in many countries, government policies, and societal practices do not uphold women’s right not to continue a pregnancy and women with unwanted pregnancies are forced into motherhood. Certainly this is evident in the United States; just before the new year, the governor of Virginia quietly signed legislation designed to close abortion clinics in the state. These laws are punitive, restricting women’s reproductive autonomy and freedom and creating categories of who can and can’t obtain abortions.

Fortunately for women, pills have changed the landscape of abortion. Abortion with pills, also known as medical abortion (MA), provides a safe, low-cost and easy to use method to terminate pregnancies. In addition to being safe and effective, medical abortion has changed the dynamics of who can provide abortions, where women get them, and who has control over the process. Evidence shows that those closest to women — community health workers and midwives — and women themselves can be trained to use abortion pills to safely terminate a pregnancy, thus giving women back the control of their own bodies. In fact, it was women in Brazil who first discovered the potential of misoprostol (cytotec) to safely end an unwanted pregnancy and who shared this knowledge through their social networks.

In order for women to benefit from the potential of medical abortion, however, they must be active participants in decisions related to where drugs are distributed and for what cost, what information is shared and by whom, and what social and medical support is needed.

Last month, Ipas hosted a meeting — “In Women’s Hands: Increasing Access to Medical Abortion Drugs and Information through Pharmacies and Drug Sellers” — in Nairobi, Kenya, that brought together 66 participants from 11 countries to discuss these important issues. Participants included a Kenyan hotline program manager, president of the Ugandan Midwives Association, several pharmacy managers from South Africa, and a Nepali senior public health officer in the Ministry of Health and Population, to name a few. The broad swath of countries and professionals represented illustrates commitment to a movement — to give women control of their reproductive lives, particularly through abortion with pills. In different countries, women, advocates and providers have developed innovative strategies to meet this goal.

In Tanzania, the Women’s Promotion Centre founded its own small pharmacy in a rural community as an alternative model for supporting women’s access to safe motherhood and abortion. This effort was born out of the “fire of anger about unnecessary deaths and suffering of women and… passion to save mothers’ lives in Kigoma,” said Martha Jerome of the Centre. Because no pharmacies were selling the lifesaving drug misoprostol, they founded a pharmacy to provide the drug themselves. They trained staff to provide counseling and support and they formed an alliance with like-minded doctors to help women with any complications. They also supply contraceptives as well as other medicines. The competition that resulted from their lower prices has driven down the cost from other private drug sellers, making these medicines more affordable for women who need them.

Read the rest of this entry →

Missed Your Period? Don’t Want to be Pregnant? There is an App for That

11:12 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Karin Gardiner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

“To avoid judgement and fear, it is always useful step into the shoes of another person. I invite you into mine.”

Colorful window display lists drug prices.

A Mexican pharmacy window

So begins the journey of a 19-year-old Mexican named Claudia, protagonist of an inventive computer game.

¿No Te Baja? which translates as Missed Your Period? makes use of bright colors, engaging cartoon characters and relatable, non-technical, language to inform and guide users through the steps they can take to terminate a pregnancy using Misoprostol. The website takes the form of an interactive, Choose Your Own Adventure style game, where users click through to different scenarios that change according to their own personal situation and decisions.

Misoprostol, a drug used to treat ulcers, is easily available for purchase throughout Mexico, and, unlike in the United States, does not require a prescription. Use of Misoprostol to terminate pregnancy is widespread in parts of Mexico where abortion is illegal, but pharmacy workers often lack the knowledge of how the drug should correctly be administered — and criminalization means that helpful information is scarce.

Although abortion of up to 12 weeks of pregnancy is available on demand in Mexico City, the situation is quite different in the rest of the country. In fact, Mexico City’s 2007 legalization of abortion prompted a backlash from 17 other states, which passed amendments stating that life begins at conception, ushering in a much stricter enforcement of already existing anti-abortion laws.

Users of No Te Baja, through the actions of Claudia and her boyfriend, go through each detailed step of the process of self-administering a medication abortion: from the initial pregnancy test to the decision whether or not to involve the partner; the signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy to calculating gestational age to indicate whether or not use of Misoprostol will be effective — and if it will be safe to self-administer.

The game advises that Misoprostol can be purchased in most pharmacies and that it may be sold under various other commercial names including Cytotec, Cyrox, and Tomispral.  Users receive detailed information on how to administer Misoprostol through the mouth or the vagina, noting that, in the event of having to seek medical attention, medical personnel would likely be able to detect the remnants of the pills inside the vagina — important information for women living in areas where they can be prosecuted for inducing an abortion.

The central Mexican state of Guanajuato, where hospital staff report suspicious miscarriages to the police, is one such place. The Nation described the state’s approach to dealing illegal abortion in a January 2012 article by Mary Cuddehe:

“The state has opened at least 130 investigations into illegal abortions over the past decade, according to research by women’s rights groups, and fourteen people, including three men, have been criminally convicted. Given Mexico’s 2 percent national conviction rate during its most violent period since the revolution, that’s a successful ratio.”

No Te Baja doesn’t end with the final dosage of medication: users (and Claudia) are informed of what signs to look out for that would require medical attention, and of how to tell if the abortion is incomplete. The final stages of the game offer information on how to avoid another unplanned pregnancy with detailed descriptions of different methods of contraception.

Photo by ArizonaGlo released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.

Mexico’s Anti-Abortion Backlash

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Mary Cuddehe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post. Cross-posted with permission from The Nation and was originally reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Daniela Castro, a 21-year-old administrator for a Mexican children’s charity, got to the hospital just before dark. It was a warm, cloudless July night in 2010, and Daniela grabbed the arm of her boyfriend of three years, a handsome architecture student named Carlos Bautista. The two walked through the entrance confidently. If anything, they looked more like a pair of teen models than a couple of criminals. But Daniela was at the hospital that night because she had taken abortion pills that made her sick. Abortion is banned throughout Mexico, and authorities in her native Guanajuato, a mid-sized state in the center of Mexico with an ultraconservative reputation, like to enforce the law.

The state has opened at least 130 investigations into illegal abortions over the past decade, according to research by women’s rights groups, and fourteen people, including three men, have been criminally convicted. Given Mexico’s 2 percent national conviction rate during its most violent period since the revolution, that’s a successful ratio.

But Daniela did not have such numbers in her head when she told the attending physician her story. A few days earlier, she and Carlos had turned to Carlos’s mother for help. Of their parents, Norma Angelica Rodriguez, 41, was the most likely to be sympathetic. She had been a young mother herself, and she knew of a pharmacy in town that would sell Misoprostol—an over-the-counter ulcer drug that women take to induce labor—without asking a lot of questions. Rodriguez knew this because, like the estimated 875,000 Mexican women who have abortions every year, she had once needed the drug herself.

The doctor listened to Daniela, then slipped out of the room and made a call. Guanajuato hospitals are expected to report suspicious miscarriages just as they would a gunshot wound. It wasn’t long before a couple of officers arrived, followed by a lawyer from the district attorney’s office, who took out a note pad. “So, Daniela, how many people have you had sex with?” he asked, jotting down the answers. “And who gave you those pills?” That night, the DA opened an official probe into Daniela’s case. If convicted, both she and Carlos’s mother—though not Carlos—faced up to three years in prison. Read the rest of this entry →

Control and Coercion: The Threats to Abortion Rights in Mexico

6:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marcy Bloom for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Sometimes the struggle for the reproductive justice and the dignity and freedom of women and girls takes on especially compelling and tragic dimensions. This is one of them.

Recently, the heart-rending case of a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape by her stepfather in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula (also home to the popular resort of Cancun) was made public by the media. According to GIRE-Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida, whose National Lawyers’ Network for the Defense of Reproductive Choice contacted the girl and her mother, it emerged that they had apparently received biased information from authorities about their rights and access to abortion.

Abortion is highly restricted in all of Mexico (except for Mexico City), but it is supposed to be available in cases of certain situations such as rape. However, it is very common for state health and legal officials to blatantly ignore the law, lie to women, and deny women and girls their rights. This latest shocking but tragically frequent outcome in Quintana Roo has brought to public attention the outrageous incidents of sexual violence that shape the lives of young girls in that state: in fact, 881 girls became pregnant as a result of rape in that state alone in 2009.

These are not isolated incidents. As it stands now, this girl and her mother have decided to continue the pregnancy, even after receiving objective information from GIRE, and the case has become a symbol of the violent context and denial of women’s and girls’ rights that exist in Quintana Roo and throughout Mexico. The girl’s stepfather has been arrested, the child is in the custody of child protective services, and she is now close to 19 weeks pregnant (her pregnancy was not discovered and diagnosed until a month ago).

In a report from Fox News, which refers to the girl as now being 11 years old, anti-choice activists claim that women’s groups have shown up at the girls’ home with plane tickets to take her out of the state in attempts to pressure her to have an abortion. This is, of course, a typical and standard anti-choice tactic; an attempt to stigmatize the choice of abortion and to discredit and vilify pro-choice groups whose only goal and concerns are to advocate for the girl (and her mother) to truly make her own decision with accurate, non-biased, and non-judgmental information. María Luisa Sánchez Fuentes, executive director of GIRE, strongly countered that outrageous claim and stated that it appears that officials did not inform the child and her mother of her right to an abortion. “We don’t know (exactly) what is happening, and the institution that is supposed to provide care and support for these minors hasn’t been transparent. We’re really asking for accountability….(We) have just wanted to inform them of their choices….no organization advocating for women and girls would ever force anyone to have an abortion against her will.”

Ms. Sánchez Fuentes indicated that the family was very poor, was being taken advantage of by the state government, and was very likely too scared to make a decision other than the one proposed by the government: to have the baby. In addition, the girl is small for her age and forcing her to give birth puts her life in danger. She will need constant medical attention and, ultimately, a Cesarean section. Conservative forces further claim that abortion-rights activists have tried to coerce and manipulate the girl and have turned her into the face of their international campaign to legalize abortion. This would be laughable if it was not so gut-wrenching; after all, who is manipulating and coercing who to do what? Anti-choice groups indicate that “abortion was never an option and the girl and her mother never thought about it.” Perhaps that is because they were never truthfully informed of it?

They state that the child has recently seen an ultrasound image of a female fetus and has happily named her baby Alejandra. She wishes that name was her own, is “enthusiastic” and “very much into motherhood.” Putting aside for a moment the obvious question of how such a young child and rape victim can truly comprehend the gravity of, and be “into,” motherhood (if indeed this is not standard anti-choice propaganda and rhetoric), a core issue is the reality of abortion rights and access to accurate and non-judgmental information and safe abortion care in Mexico.

Mexican women and girls risk their lives and health to obtain abortions and there are at least 600,000 to one million illegal abortions annually in the country. At least 1,500 women die of medical complications following abortion every year and there are estimates of at least 50,000-100,000 post-abortion complications that are treated in health facilities every year. Abortion is the third to fourth highest cause of maternal mortality in Mexico. And even under the very limited circumstances (such as rape, fetal deformity, and danger to the woman’s life) where abortion has been theoretically legal throughout the country, there are numerous personal, cultural, and religious biases, as well as outright obstruction and a lack of referral mechanisms in the health and legal sectors, that far too often conspire to deny women their legal right to abortion. This is a well-documented country-wide pattern.

A rape occurs in Mexico every four minutes and these women and girls are denied their right to abortion as well, even though rape is one of alleged exceptions. Paulina Rámirez is one of these women. In 1999, at the age of 13, she was raped in her home. When she discovered that she was pregnant as result of this horrific trauma, she and her mother petitioned the government of her state (Baja California) for an abortion. However, she was manipulated, pressured, and deceived by anti-choice activists to change her mind and, in fact, the attorney general of her state actually took her to a priest for so-called counseling. His version of counseling consisted of attempting to intimidate Paulina and her mother with declarations of abortion as a mortal sin. In addition, the director of the hospital where the abortion was supposed to be performed showed the teen-ager and her mother photos of aborted fetuses and discussed death and infertility as common outcomes of legal abortion (apparently this medical “professional’s” personal version of informed consent). With this relentless campaign of intimidation, threats and lies, the frightened Paulina broke down and decided that she had no choice but to continue the pregnancy. When her son was born, she petitioned the local Mexican courts for redress, with little success. But in 2006, four years after a case had been filed by GIRE, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and other advocacy groups on her behalf (Paulina Rámirez v.Mexico) in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Paulina was granted reparations. This was a tremendous victory for the women of Mexico, as it was the first time that a Latin American government acknowledged that access to legal abortion is a human right and the Mexican government was also now required to issue guidelines to its 31 states and ensure that this right was no longer violated. Mexico appeared to be continuing on the path to expand the right to safe and legal abortion when, on April 24, 2007, another incredible victory for women’s lives occurred when abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy was decriminalized in Mexico City (the nation’s liberal capital). And on August 28th, 2008, yet another hard-fought victory took place when the Mexican Supreme Court voted 8 to 3 to constitutionally uphold the right to abortion for all of the women of Mexico. Mexico then became the biggest country in Latin America to have such a liberal abortion law, based on reproductive rights as human rights, safe and voluntary motherhood, the right to safe abortion care, and reproductive justice. It was an incredible and hopeful time for the very real possibility of the expansion of abortion rights to continue throughout the country.

But a strong backlash to these significant changes for women and girls began quickly and has been relentless. While Mexico City’s hospitals have performed close to 40,000 legal abortions since abortion was decriminalized, demonstrating the compelling need for this important right and safe women’s health service, more than 50 women in outlying states have been jailed for obtaining an abortion. In the coastal state of Veracruz, at least five women are serving 12-to-15 year sentences for aborting a pregnancy after having been found guilty of homicide. The November 2009 changes to this state’s constitution include a clause that women who illegally obtain abortions can avoid jail time by accepting medical and psychological treatment. This change will “defend the right to life and protect women.” (Note from this author: really? how?) Reacting to this outrageous law, a leader of the liberal Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Margarita Guillaumín said : “Now women who feel driven to abort are ill, crazy, unhinged, perturbed-and they are going to rehabilitate them? Hallelujah!”

And in yet another especially odd and oppressive law in the state of Jalisco, a minimum of four to 12 month sentences are imposed on women for having an abortion if they meet four conditions: they have a “bad reputation,” (note from this writer: who gets to judge that?), sought an abortion as result of an “illegitimate union,” attempted to hide the pregnancy, and had the abortion within the first trimester. If one of these requirements is not fulfilled, then the sentence is doubled. If two are not met, it is tripled. Did I say confusing, punitive, shocking, and really strange?

Already, 17 states have altered their constitutions to declare that life begins at conception, effectively making abortion a crime in those states where it was already prohibited, highly restricted, and typically impossible to obtain. The conservative National Action Party (PAN) has close ties to the powerful and influential Catholic Church and, not surprisingly, the anti-abortion laws it has proposed in these states is remarkably similar to the beliefs and words of the Mexican clergy and the Catholic hierarchy.

In fact, after Mexico City’s momentous 2007 decriminalization of abortion, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to Mexican bishops, encouraging them to vociferously oppose the law. Church leaders in Mexico soon followed by threatening to excommunicate any politician who supported the new law. “It’s not revenge, it’s just what happens in the case of serious sins,” said the archbishop of Acapulco. So while celibate men whose Church is its own ethical crisis decide the fate of women’s health and bodies, the influential participation of the Church is both overt and covert, as Mexico has a Catholic majority but is constitutionally a secular state. Working behind political parties and other conservative organizations, there is no doubt that the Church’s influence in the health, lives, and destinies of women remains powerful and destructive, even as it is overstepping constitutional boundaries.

This was recently also a common concern in the United States, when the U.S. National Council of Catholic Bishops raised its voice in its absolute desire to exclude abortion coverage from any health care reform package. These oppressive legislative restrictions in Mexico have created severe repercussions for women and have pushed many women to take extraordinary measures. It is well known that women will do just about anything to obtain abortions and so the women of Mexico are traveling from across the country to public hospitals in the capital, to private clinics in the U.S., to back-alley abortions, and/or or to self-abort with the pharmaceutical misoprostol and other techniques.

As Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider with four offices in Texas which serve large numbers of Mexican women who are able to cross the border, stated: “The legality of abortion changes the kind of abortion a woman will have, but not the number of women who will have abortions.”

Indeed, a 2009 report from the Guttmacher Institute clearly demonstrates that despite abortion being essentially illegal in virtually all of Mexico, abortion is 40 percent more prevalent in that country than in the United States. Dr. Fatima Juarez, the study’s author, noted: “These findings confirm research from other parts of the world: that making abortion illegal does not significantly decrease its frequency, it just makes it unsafe and puts women’s lives at risk.”

Of course. This, too, is a universal and documented pattern. Women are, yet again, treated as expendable, disposable, and requiring control and punishment. When this story first broke in the U.S., I received a note from a physician I know. Protecting his/her identity with this information, the note read: “These cases such as the one of the ten year old from Quintana Roo touch a place very deep in my heart. It seems so amazing that some people impose their beliefs on an innocent child. ….in a way that will forever affect her. Does anyone truly believe that there is any positive end to her being forced to continue the pregnancy?”

Apparently and tragically, many do….and in a remarkable gesture of solidarity, this skilled abortion provider also offered to pay for the child’s and her mother’s flight to the U.S., to cover all costs of food, lodging, and other needs, and do her abortion himself at no charge. Although this is not meant to be, such acts of compassion and concern give me hope for the future even as women’s lives and abortion rights in Mexico continue to be under severe attack. In the meantime, the pregnant young rape victim, still in state custody, and allegedly “excited” with her growing abdomen carrying baby Alejandra, is receiving constant attention and medical care. One of her medical concerns has been malnutrition, and, according to Fox News (April 23, 2010) “the focus has been on “providing the girl with lots of vegetables, vitamins, and folic acid.”

If only this child had been able to receive all of the loving attention, healthy food, educational opportunities, and medical care her growing mind and body needed well before she became pregnant. If only the state deemed her as worthy and significant even without a pregnancy growing in her body. I wish that she was regarded as having value as a young child even without a fetus. Do I wish for too much? I don’t think so.