Reproductive Justice and Women's Rights in Mexico

By Dr. Olga M. Lazin-Andrei
UCLA Visiting Scholar, Education & History


The goal of this paper is to define and advance the concept of reproductive justice and its application in lives of women in the real world, especially in Mexico.

So what exactly is reproductive justice?

Reproductive justice is a fundamental right.

Generally, it is defined as a broad understanding of what people from all backgrounds need to enjoy fully: the right to be informed, the right to have control over their reproductive lives and to be supported in their decisions to have a child, to not have a child, or to raise the children they have. What unites us transglobal activists is to promote reproductive justice and eliminate the residues of the 'global gag rule' instituted by Bill Clinton and continued by W. Bush.

The gag rule is no longer in existence.

Our goal is that of confronting deeply entrenched structural inequalities that impede women's ability to make their own reproductive decisions and exercise this control.

In this paper I expose societal barriers like racism and sexism which are the real culprits to the erosion of self-determination and opportunity for women in Mexico.

The undercurrent racism that can be noticed in the “Work offered' ads (in newspapers), and billboards, are constant reminders of these stereotypes Mexican society is perpetuating.

Mexico's total population exceeds One hundred ten million people. Of those, over half are women and fifteen percent of those women are illiterate. It is amazing then, in a country where women number more than half the inhabitants, that services, education, employment and human rights, where concerned with the welfare of women, are at their lowest level. The use of contraception, while on the rise, still has much to gain in terms of popularity and acceptance in Mexico.

If women are aware of contraception, it is unlikely the men in their lives - husbands, politicians, doctors, lawyers, church officials - will allow the use of it.

Condom use by men is even harder to track. The infamous macho culture of Mexican men is hard to erode even in the twenty-first century.

In fact, during his 1999 visit, the Pope, who stated prior to his visit his belief that defense of human dignity is essential for world peace - he called it the foundation, did not discuss the failure of Mexico to meet basic human rights for women in the area of reproductive health. It is such dismissal and disregard that allows the continuing degradation, inequality, and deaths of women.

Mexico's abortion rights have been characterized as “strictly for the books.” (Farmer). Although abortion is illegal in Mexico, most Mexican states establish criteria allowing abortions without fear of penalty. These criteria, which vary by state, include unintentional abortion or that caused by negligence, pregnancies caused by rape or non-consensual insemination, and medical necessity to save the life or health of the woman. One state goes so far as to allow abortion for serious economic reasons as long as the woman already has three children. Even with these exclusions from abortion as a crime, the reality in terms of obtaining an abortion is harsh. Doctors, who are punished for performing abortions and therefore usually abstain from them, are not trained. Those that have some training frequently do not keep up to date with new medical findings.

Consider the case of Paulina, fourteen, from Mexico D. F. Raped by a burglar in 2001, it was legal for her to receive an abortion. Supported by her mother Maria Elena, she went to the hospital for the procedure. Once admitted, the hospital allowed anti-abortion extremists to see her and show her graphic videos of abortions. This did not stop Paulina from moving forward however, the doctors at the hospital conscientiously objected to performing the procedure. Paulina and Maria Elena appealed to the Attorney General to enforce the law and instead, he took them to see a Catholic priest. The priest advised Paulina, a 14 year-old who had been raped and then became pregnant, that abortion was a sin. No mention was made of the sin that had been visited upon Paulina through the rape and subsequent pregnancy. Paulina pressed on and the Attorney General eventually signed an order for the abortion. Once again Paulina and Maria Elena went to the hospital, order in hand. Once again, they were dissuaded by staffers from the abortion. The hospital director over-emphasized the risks of the procedure and this time it worked: Paulina did not have the abortion and carried her child to term.

Following her failed abortion attempts, two Mexican women's rights groups filed lawsuits on her behalf. Epikeia and GIRE (Information Group on Reproductive Choice) in order to prevent filing of criminal and civil charges against her, took the case to the State Human Rights Director, who forwarded the case to the National Human Rights Commission for a determination regarding potential violations of Paulina's human rights.

Nevertheless, while there were laws in place, lawyers, doctors, priests, and society conspired to disallow Paulina her legal option.

Law, interpretation of that law, enforcement, and prevailing attitudes, impact abortion services. In a country where women number more than half the population, they have minimal impact on reproductive rights. Given what it takes to obtain an abortion under legal circumstances, it is believable when we see statistics that tell us of the 1.7 million abortions per year in Mexico, 850 thousand are induced. Statistics further show that abortion is between the third or fourth cause of death in women and between the second to fourth causes of hospitalization in Mexico.

17 of 32 states criminalize abortion from the moment of conception

While abortion is illegal in 17 states of Mexico, the threat of prosecution is usually only a threat. But if one is caught, it is a lifelong stigma.

A research study in 1992 in Mexico City determined that of 600 women inmates in the Tepepan jail, only one had been convicted of provoking an abortion. She was 81 years old, nearly blind, and an alternative health care worker. (Martinez)

As this case illustrates, there is minimal prosecution of the offenders. In fact, corruption ensures little prosecution. A woman pays the equivalent of approximately 1,000 U.S. dollars to secure her release from any charges that are brought (it is called the amparo, that is the Mexican habeas corpus law). It is no wonder abortion, while illegal, continues to flourish outside the mainstream of health care providers and procedures. Even the government speaks from both sides of its mouth, “Abortion is illegal, a sin, and punishable; pay up!”

The threat of prosecution does its part in keeping abortion out of the mainstream and therefore unavailable to those except the very wealthy. Women living in poverty who choose abortion are very unlikely to be able to obtain one. If they are successful in their quest, they are likely to die for their efforts. Poor women do not have the luxury of pristine medical conditions or trained practitioners therefore; their chances of surviving their abortion are greatly reduced. This is of course assuming they are able to locate services in the first place. In 1993, fifty nine percent of women in Mexico lacked access to legal medical services. (Martinez) Only starting in 2007, The Procuradoria general, allowed passage of an abortion law but only for the city of Mexico D. F. (the capital of Mexico, which is made up of approximately 23 million people.) Here is a list of the 17 staes penalizing abortion:

Here is a list of the 17 staes penalizing abortion: (From January 2010)

2008 december 
2008 december 
Baja California Sur
2009 march 
2009 april
2009 may 
Quintana Roo
2009 may 
2009 may 
2009 june 
2009 june 
2009 july
2009 august  
2009 septiembre 
2009 septiembre 
San Luis Potosí
2009 septiembre 
2009 septiembre 
2009 noviembre 
2009 diciembre 


The Mexican health care system is sub-divided into many sectors including the salaried sector (social security), state sector (open to all), and the private sector consisting of many layers. All of these factions serve to create confusion, under-coverage, and an excuse for lack of resources. Only state hospitals offer abortion in Mexico City, and these are understaffed and overcrowded.

Following the World Summit for Children in 1990, Mexico did create programs aimed at pregnant women however; contraception and abortion were still not on the table. Instead of looking at how to limit childbirth, which is what many women desire, the country has taken steps to improve care for pregnant women. While this is a positive move, it does leave one asking the questions, “What happens once the child is delivered and pregnancy complete? What programs are in place to ensure growth and provide opportunities for the child that has just entered the world?”

Looking back to where the discussion was initiated with legal reforms in Mexico City, in 2007, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico voted 46 to 17 to reform the penal code and health laws to de-penalize abortion within the first 12 weeks of gestation. According to Robinowitz, the new reforms, at that time, stated that after 12 weeks women who got abortions could be penalized with 3 to 6 months jail time or 100 -300 days of community service. Before this law, women in Mexico City could only legally get an abortion for rape, fetal malformation, risk to the mother's life, or artificial insemination against the woman's will. (Robinowitz, 2)

Immediately after the reforms were passed, the president of Mexico filed a challenge at the Supreme Court level, claiming that the ruling was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held six public hearings with 40 people speaking both sides of the debate. In August 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the abortion law by an 8 to 3 vote. Many felt that this ruling would set the state for other states to pass similar reforms, loosening laws on abortion. (Robinowitz, 2)

Yet, this was farthest from the truth. The northern state of Chihuahua was the only state with this amendment before the Supreme Court ruling. But within three months of the ruling upholding the legality of abortion in Mexico City, a backlash spread. Morelos, the state south of Mexico City, amended its Constitution to declare that life begins at conception. This trend of equating abortion to homicide, was initiated in Morelos, then in Baja California, Campeche, Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Yucatan, and now Veracruz.

Jalisco portrays Mexico's anti-abortion offensive from the ultra conservative end. PAN Governor Emilio Gonzalez Marques recently filed an appeal to prevent women from aborting for any reason, including rape.

All of these actions in different provinces and regions of Mexico bring the issue of abortion to the federal level. There are huge implications with the constitutional amendments in Veracruz, because the state has adopted a proposal which requires Congress to consider outlawing abortion for the whole country. This is permitted because the constitution affirms that a state legislature can propose an amendment that must be go through Congress.

With a continuing blurring between state politics, religion (the church), and personal preference, it is apparent that recent legislation has been influenced by the teachings of the Catholic Church of Mexico. For instance, church leaders were encouraged by Pope Benedict to oppose the law and excommunicate politicians who supported the law. It is considered to be a serious sin, by one archbishop from Acapulco.

NGOS, Amnesty International are cooperating to stop sweeping rape and beatings of women in Mexico:


In the United States, we have once again determined what is appropriate for individuals in other countries. It seems our “assistance” is never without strings. During the Regan Administration, the U. S. enacted the Mexico City Policy prohibiting receipt of United States' funds by Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) supporting abortions. It made in no difference the NGOs were supporting abortions in compliance with the legal limitations of their own country and with their own funds. The fact that made the difference was that they were supporting abortions. Once again, the U.S. became the world's morality police. This policy ended in 1993 during the Clinton Administration, but a continuing attack was waged within Congress to restrict funding to NGOs similar to the policy Clinton had ended. Congress was successful in 1999 when it struck a deal with Clinton resulting in the Global Gag Rule however, the intent was it would be in effect for only one year. The Bush Administration, had maintained the Global Gag Rule for eight years, forbidding foreign aid to NGOs using their own money to fund or promote abortion as a method of family planning. It should be noted that “family planning” is loosely defined. This policy censors speech that promotes human rights law reform in that it bars NGOs from speaking freely regarding abortion law reformation. These organizations cannot express views contrary to that of the Unites States government, cannot organize a debate, publish factual information, testify before or give briefings to Congress, attend or speak publicly at United Nations conferences. (CRLP)

Gagging these organizations only serves to further ensure their countries remain a “step below” without adequate representation, access to health care and human rights legislations and protections. Most importantly, what this country does to NGOs is inconsistent with the Constitutional principles we hold in such high esteem in the United States.

The United States is therefore limiting “free speech, democratic participation, and reproductive autonomy.” (CRLP)

The United States, until recently, when Barrack Obama came to power, has been programmatically depriving women of equal participation and recognition in the societies of the third world. The first action that Obama took in 2009 was to repeal the Global Gag rule, for which women are very grateful. Abortion in Mexico is really now an option; unfortunately women have to travel afar to the federal District in order to get one.

B. Use of Contraception in Mexico is more probable, but the statistics reflect that nearly fifteen percent of women, who may find contraception useful, are unaware of it or have no monetary means to obtain it.

Mexican society demonstrates little regard for contraception. Although the government outwardly continues to take an active role in promoting smaller families, the reality is that most men feel that applies to everyone but them. Large families are a sign of prestige and success. In reality, they are a sign of a society that does not value the input of women or the rights of women. This is not to say that all large families are a burden on society or a result of inadequate women's rights. It is to say that should be a conscious choice that all make - both men and women. Mexico has made it illegal to obtain an abortion since Carlos S. de Gortari. Women die from self-induced abortions every day, a few are imprisoned, and corruption is rampant.

It is time to reconsider the paradigm. If abortion were not illegal, it would continue to be performed sanitarily, as it is today, but only in Mexico City.

This is an indication how highly centralized Mexican legislation still is. All administrative, and juridical power derives from the center, at the detriment of women living in the other 31 states of Mexico.

The only difference would be a society that supported its women through viable health care, access to options, hygienic abortions, and the removal of the shame.

We are simply not born equal .

Perinatal transmission of human papilomavirus DNA in 2005-2008, inperinatal pregnant women.

Renato L Rombaldi1,3,4 , Eduardo P Serafini2,3 , Jovana Mandelli1 , Edineia Zimmermann1  and Kamille P Losquiavo1

1 Diagnosis – Molecular Laboratory, University of Caxias do Sul, Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
2 Pathology Medical Laboratory, Department of Health and Biomedical Science, University of Caxias do Sul, Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
3 Biotechnology Institute, University of Caxias do Sul, Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
4 Outpatient Clinic of Genital Pathology, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Caxias do Sul, Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Tags; transglobal activism, reproduction, justice, abortion, macho, Mexico, contraception, condom.



1. Robinowitz, Natanya. "A Step Backward for Human Rights." Ed. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. America's Program. 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2010

2. Center for Reproductive Law & Policy.  “The Bush Global Gag Rule.  A Violation of International Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution.”  July 2001. 

3. Web-site.Farmer, Ann.  “In Mexico, Abortion Rights Strictly for the Books.”  Reproductive Freedom News.  Vol. 81, No. 6.  June 2000.

4. Martinez, Katherine Hall, Bartolone, Alison-Marie, Rayas, Lucia (CRLP) and Rayas,Lucia, Giacoman, Claudia, and Herrera, Julieta (GIRE).  “Women's
Reproductive Rights in Mexico:  A Shadow Report.”  December 1997. 
CRLP web-site.

5. McConahay, Mary Jo.  “Mexico's Population Planners Walk a Fine Line to Reach Their Goal.  Pacific News Service, JINN, on-line.  January 22, 1999.

6. Rahman, Anika, Katzive, Laura, and Henshaw, Stanley K.  “A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997.”  June 1998.  CRLP web-site.

7. Senate Record Vote Analysis.  “Foreign Population Aid & Abortion”,  (Mexico City Policy) Passage.”  105th Congress, 1st Session, February 25, 1997.


8. Women & Politics;

Online; On Human Papiloma Virus (see above).

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Olga Magdalena Lazín