Legal Abortion in Mexico City, One Year Later

Karim Velasco

One year after legalization of abortion in Mexico City, the procedure has proven to be both necessary and safe.

It’s been more than
a year since Mexico City made
history in Latin America

by decriminalizing abortion under all circumstances. As many of RH Reality
Check readers already know
, on April 24, 2007, the Mexico City Legislative
Assembly passed a Decree that decriminalized abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, defining implantation
as the beginning of pregnancy and also reducing the sentences for women
undergoing abortions after the twelfth week. The Decree also amended
Mexico City’s Health Law so that it became compulsory for all public
health centers in Mexico City to provide adequate medical services to
all women requesting for an abortion along with all the necessary information
regarding that procedure.

The Decree did not alter
the indications under which abortion was already legally allowed: when
the woman’s health is at risk, when there is severe fetal malformation
and in cases of non-consensual artificial insemination and rape. These
are still considered legal indications to perform an abortion even after
week 12.

Later, on May 4, 2007,
the Health Secretariat for Mexico City issued the new Guidelines for
the Organization and Operation of Health Services regarding the Interruption
of Pregnancy
which set up the procedures
and requirements that public and private health service staff have to
fulfill in order to provide high quality and timely services for women
seeking an abortion. The document demands that prior to terminating
a pregnancy the woman has to submit a written informed consent, receive
counseling from the medical staff and demonstrate that the pregnancy
is less than twelve weeks by an accurate medical exam. The health staff
must then provide the required services within a forty eight hour deadline
(a ten day deadline applies for the indications allowed after week twelve).

Anti-choice campaigners
started then a fierce counterattack that has polarized the Mexican society
as never seen before. They predicted that Mexico City would become
an "abortion paradise" since women from all over the country would
travel to the city to have abortion for free. However, things
didn’t turn out as they anticipated.

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After a year since the
new regulation became effective, Mexico City health authorities released
the official statistics regarding the provision of medical care for
women who interrupted their pregnancies at public health facilities.
The Health Secretary found that a total of 7820 women underwent abortions,
78% of them originally from Mexico City and the remaining ones
from other states, clearly demonstrating that predictions about
Mexico City becoming an "abortion paradise" were far from being

It was
reported that 18,000 women requested information from the counseling
services. Eleven thousand five hundred women asked for the interruption of their pregnancies
but a third decided not to terminate after counseling.

Official figures
also showed that 45.7% of the women who asked for an abortion are between
18 to 24 years old, 21.3% are 25 to 29 and 15.2% are 30
to 34. Contrary
to what conservatives expected, young women from 15 to 17 years old
only account for 5.5%, while the ones even younger, 11 to 14 years old, represent
0.9% of the total.

According to the Health Secretariat
more than 96.9% of the abortions in the last year have been performed
without complications. Only one death occurred due to medical malpractice,
in which case the doctor responsible was suspended. Raffaela Schiavon, director of Ipas Mexico, highlights the fact that "overall maternal mortality
has significantly decreased (14 deaths less than in 2006), and
that there has been a clear decline of mortality due to abortion (only
one death compared to an average between 8 and 10 per year in the last

During the year fourteen public
hospitals and two centers specialized in adolescents provided the medical
services for the interruption on pregnancies. Doctor Jorge Nava
Flores, Chief of the Gynecology Department in one of the hospitals where
abortions were performed, claimed that "this process has not been easy
for doctors since the majority of them reject the procedure."

The Catholics for Choice Director Maria Consuelo Mejia believes that "there is still a lot to do" and that
it is necessary to cautiously inform people about the implications of
the decriminalization of abortion, demonstrating the benefits that this
policy has had on the health of more than 7,000 women in Mexico City.

Civil society organizations and pro-choice campaigners ought to stay
alert because the battle is not over yet. The National Human Rights
Commission and the Attorney General Office filed unconstitutionality
claims of the Decree before the Mexican Supreme Court last year. Public
hearings have been taking place in the last months in Mexico City to
discuss the constitutionality of the decriminalization of abortion.
The ruling is expected to be pronounced in the following month.

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