By Robert Yourell
NCFM Liaison Baja, Mexico
Legalized abortion in Mexico?
Mexico has been no paradise for those advocating legalized abortion. A recent poll (details below) tells us that less than 10% in Baja California would permit abortion in case of rape or threat to the mother’s health. Abortion is illegal everywhere except Mexico City.
Despite such sentiments, women don’t go to prison for murder when they have an abortion or miscarriage. A higher court overturned such a conviction in Baja California. And the Supreme Court has ruled that in case of rape, a morning after type of contraceptive or abortion must be provided. (This doesn’t mean that local officials will always cooperate, though.) On the other hand, in Baja California, the punishment for getting or providing an abortion can be from 1 to 5 years.
There has been a back and forth struggle on abortion. After the Supreme Court upheld Mexico City’s legalization of abortion, 17 states passed laws stating that life begins at conception. This is when the murder raps began. But the attempt to frame abortion as murder failed, at least in so far as the law is concerned.
The Supreme Court has consistently taken a states’ rights stance on abortion. This, and the popular sentiment, mean that abortion will be the law of the land nearly everywhere into the forseeable future. I should mention, though, that the Supreme Court allowed Baja California’s anti-abortion law to stand by only one vote shy of the supermajority needed to overturn it. (9 of 11 votes were needed, only 8 were cast against the law.) A change in the Court could, in theory, result in a federal legalization of abortion; but this seems unlikely, given the extent of public opinion. Public opinion could shift. During the 2000’s, the Catholic Church lost 1,000 members per day, according to the national census.
While the government is secular, and the Constitution has very strong protections against intrusion by religion, the culture is profoundly influenced by Catholicism. Still, women do not abide by all the Pope’s commands. They defy the Church and widely use contraception. They do not perceive their anti-abortion feelings as a contradiction, though, because they believe life begins at conception. If you can prevent conception, that’s one thing. Abortion is another.
The Constitution clearly protects everyone’s right to decide how many children they want and when they want them. In the poll below, nearly everyone agreed with this constitutional principle. But, when it came to abortion, the sentiments were very negative. The Constitution does not specifically protect abortion by name.
Men and better-educated people are more favorable to legalized abortion.
As reported in El Sol de Tijuana, a recent poll by Baja California’s Civilian Opinion Institute (Instituto de Opinión Ciudadana del Poder Legislativo de Baja California) tells us that men and better-educated people are more favorable to legalized abortion. The gender spread is not large.
76% are against legal abortion
77.9% of women take this position
73.1% of men take this position
52.1% are against legal abortion under any circumstances (no exception for rape, deformation of fetus, or risk to mother’s health)
39.3% are open to legal abortion under special circumstances
8.4% would allow it regardless of special circumstances (free choice)
21.6% are for legal abortion
19.5% of women take this position
24.8% of men take this position
Those more likely to be in favor of legal abortion are people with a professional education (37.6) and residents of Ensenada (25.4%).
People with a technical education (trade school) were low in approval (4%).
Public opinion tends to be more favorable toward abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother’s life, or mental illness of the mother. However, in Mexico, this is not a strong influence. The poll found that 52.1% were against it under any circumstances. Only 8.4% felt that abortion should be legal for people who would choose it without a special circumstance (pure choice).
The poll allowed a range from “strongly” agree or disagree to “somewhat.” The preponderance of strong opinion suggests that opinion is not likely to shift any time soon. For example, 50% felt strongly that a woman should not receive an abortion despite having mental problems. Only 30.8% felt strongly or “somewhat” that an abortion should be legal in such a case.
The Baja California public may be even more anti-abortion than this study shows, because it was done via phone calls to people with residential lines. Poorer people that are less likely to have residential lines are more traditional, and may poll more strongly anti-abortion.
My television broadcast on misconceptions about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Baja California’s abortion law: http://www.yourell.com/news_mexico/20111004
The broadcast includes interviews of people on the street. It’s interesting to see how they describe their views. In a word: simply. Of nine interviews, only one is male. All were anti-abortion. The interviewer gets their opinion on whether rape should be an exception. (The interviews are subtitled in English, but otherwise, the broadcast is in English.)
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