On March 12 lawmakers in Puebla,
Mexico, voted to amend the state’s constitution to recognize a "right
to life" that begins at conception. Puebla is not the first Mexican
state to adopt such a provision – Colima, Baja California, Sonora, and
Morelos have all recently passed similar legislation. The trend among
Mexican states to reinforce what are already strict restrictions on
abortion access comes in reaction to Mexico City’s groundbreaking
2007 policy to legalize abortion in the Federal District of Mexico during
the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Challenged by abortion rights opponents,
the law was recently upheld
by Mexico’s Supreme Court.
This new spate of state-level
laws further restricts Mexican women’s already limited access to legal
abortion. Worse, there is evidence that women are being denied abortion
care even when they meet the strict criteria for a legal procedure. Human Rights Watch recently reported that in Guanajuato,
where abortion is outlawed except in the case of rape, rape survivors
are routinely denied access to the procedure.
These policies not only demonstrate
a shocking lack of compassion, they also directly contradict strong
evidence from Mexico and other parts of the world that restricting abortion
access does not make abortion less common – it just results in more
women dying or being injured by clandestine and unsafe procedures.
Case in point: Despite highly
restrictive policies, the number of abortions performed in Mexico increased
by one-third (from 533,000 to 875,000) between 1990 and 2006, according
to a new study conducted by El Colegio de Mexico,
the Population Council Mexico Office and the Guttmacher Institute.
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Mexico’s abortion rate of 33 procedures per
1,000 women aged
15-44, is more than 40% higher than the rate in the United States
per 1,000 women),
even though the procedure is broadly legal in the United States.
Safety is another key difference
between the two countries. Fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients
in the United States
have complications requiring hospitalization. In stark contrast, 17%
of Mexican women who obtained abortions in 2006 required treatment in
public hospitals for complications.
This comparison is not unique
to North America. A worldwide
by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization found
that abortion rates tend to be lowest where the procedure is broadly
legal and contraceptives are widely available and used. Moreover, abortion
rates are roughly equal in regions where abortion is legal to those
where it isn’t. The only difference, once again, is that the procedure
is very safe in countries where abortion is legal and often unsafe in
countries where it is highly restricted.
Worldwide, almost all abortions
are the result of unintended pregnancies. If Mexican policymakers are
concerned about reducing the need for abortion and safeguarding women’s
health, they should heed the strong evidence and focus on policies that
This means acknowledging Mexican
women’s increased desire to have smaller families by expanding access
to contraceptives and promoting their use. It means supporting comprehensive
sex education for young people to prepare them for life before they
become sexually active. And it means ending abortion restrictions that
do nothing to lower the incidence of abortion and only serve to endanger
women’s lives. Mexican women deserve no less.