BY JOHNNY HAZARD
In the wake of the passage last year of a series of anti-abortion laws in Texas, there are signs that the opposite tendency is shaping up in Mexico. The Supreme Court there has issued various decisions liberalizing abortion laws in recent years but last September came the most wide-ranging one: in a challenge to the law of the northern border state of Coahuila the court struck down Article 358 of the penal code which said:
One to three years of prison and a fine shall be applied:
To the woman who obtains an abortion or to the person who causes her to abort with her consent.
If the woman acted under grave circumstances, from three days to six months of prison and a fine will be applied. The following constitute grave circumstances:
I. When there exists a reasonable fear of serious genetic or congenital alterations of the fetus.
II. When the pregnancy is the result of rape, and the abortion is practiced more than 90 days after conception.
Most Mexican states had or have this provision that literally incarcerates the woman who has aborted. Tamaulipas, which borders on the part of Texas that stretches from Laredo to Brownsville and the Gulf, has a six -month to one-year penalty and there is no movement in its legislature to change this, though the Supreme Court ruling regarding Coahuila is binding on all of the states. Of the six northern border states, only Coahuila and Baja California have changed the law. A proposal in Chihuahua was introduced on March 9 after nearby Sinaloa voted down its abortion restrictions the day before, on International Women’s Day.
Women’s groups like Las Libres have detected around 200 women jailed this year for having aborted. Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, explains that it is difficult to count how many people are incarcerated for this because most are jailed for other charges – murder of a family member, infanticide, etc. – and in many of these cases the abortion was spontaneous (i.e., miscarriage), not intentional. The Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres (Conavim), on the other hand, identifies 432 cases initiated this year in 27 states and asks that these cases be reviewed and the charges dropped.
These legal attacks against women increased during the recent presidential periods of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, all of whom have strong ties to the Catholic hierarchy. Peña Nieto, when asked on the campaign trail in 2006 if he knew what a kilo of tortillas cost, replied: “No. I’m not the lady of the house.” He is widely believed to have killed his first wife a few years before that election and was last seen living in Spain, hoping to avoid prosecution for any of many possible charges.
Of the 32 states and federal entities, Mexico City decriminalized the interruption of pregnancy and made it free in 2008 and six states have followed with the elimination of penalties, though not with the free service: Baja California, Sinaloa, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz and Coahuila. Sonora, which sits between Baja California and Chihuahua and south of Arizona, and Nuevo León, where Monterrey is the capital, have small but viable women’s movements but no legislative action on this front.
Many border cities have a robust “health tourism” industry, which may mean the sale of prescription-only or controlled substances or may mean the offering of legitimate and high-quality services, as is the case in Los Algodones, Baja California, across the border from Yuma, Arizona, for dentistry and Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas, across from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, for general services for retired travelers from the U.S. These two cities are relatively free of the violence of cities like Nuevo Laredo. Ciudad Acuña, across from the west Texas town of Del Río, is a place where some health tourism exists and where a lot of well-known Texas musicians play in various clubs.
So it would be logical for a series of offerings to develop for U.S. women, and especially Texas women, to interrupt pregnancy. The state of Chihuahua has a very robust women’s movement dating at least to the beginning of this century when the phenomenon of the murder of women in and around Ciudad Juárez became well known. And in the two biggest cities, Juárez and Chihuahua, there are already people coordinating with others on the Texas side for the exchange of abortion services, as this article from the newspaper El Paso Matters explains: https://elpasomatters.org/2021/12/28/how-an-fda-ruling-does-and-doesnt-affect-el-pasoans-legal-abortion-options/.
In the years prior to the enactment of the new Texas laws, women have traveled from one country to the other, depending on where access was better at a given time. This often meant Mexican women – the few who could get visas, anyway – crossing to El Paso for medical services. It also is increasingly common for U.S. and Mexican residents to buy misoprostol – one of the ingredients of RU 486 – in Mexico. Opinions among activists and women’s health experts differ about the safety and efficacy of this procedure, but guidance is available. This site, https://www.ipas.org/our-work/abortion-self-care/abortion-with-pills/how-to-buy-abortion-pills-that-are-safe-and-effective/, explains prices and the difference between mifepristone and misoprostol, which costs 480 pesos (about $22) for a box of 20 at discount pharmacies in Mexico. A person needs 12 pills to expel a fetus of less than twelve weeks’ gestation.
Los Algodones may become a good site for Arizonans looking to get around that state’s restrictive abortion laws; the other two U.S. border states, New Mexico and California, have more liberal laws but some residents may be looking to Mexico to get misoprostol or medical services at a much lower cost.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that have legalized abortion:
(in Mexico City only)
2022 Colombia and parts of Mexico
Countries in the region that allow no exceptions, including in cases of rape or danger to the mother’s life: