Monday, August 25, 2008

Mexico City struggles with abortion

In most of Latin America, abortion is illegal in most or all cases.

Rich women can fly elsewhere.

It is poor women who are in jeopardy, as they go to illegal clinics. Having an abortion by an unskilled practitioner can place their health in jeopardy.

As the NY Times reports, Mexico City recently legalized abortion. However, 85% of the gynecologists in the city's public hospitals declared themselves conscientious objectors, the conservative Federal government has challenged them in court, and abortions have been in practice very difficult to obtain.

Alejandra, 24, who works for the city’s women’s institute, said that when she went to get an abortion last year at a public hospital, a social worker there told her that she would need to pay for her own ultrasound, which is supposed to be free, and that she would need to be accompanied by a family member. Scared off by the description of the risks and the procedure, she fled the hospital.

She ended up taking pills to induce an abortion, without seeing a doctor, and developed a serious infection. She asked that only her first name be used because she said she recently received a death threat for speaking at a city event celebrating the new law. Another woman, a 27-year-old high school literature teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her friends told her that they were treated like prostitutes at public hospitals. She also took abortion pills but said they were ineffective, requiring her to visit a doctor to complete her abortion.

To speed up treatment, officials are moving low-risk abortions out of overworked public hospitals into three smaller public clinics, based in part on models in Britain and the United States. The smaller staffs there should be more supportive, they hope.

Contraceptives are apparently legal. One doctor quoted in the text objected to abortions. She said that women were irresponsible not to use contraceptives. Of course, poor women may face barriers that make it impossible to use contraceptives.

Another gynecologist quoted said the following:

Those who have chosen to perform abortions say it has not been easy. Dr. Laura García was the only one of 13 gynecologists at her hospital who agreed to offer abortions last year. Some days, she says, she performs as many as seven or eight surgical abortions.

“I became a warrior there defending my convictions,” said Dr. García, who moved to a new hospital in May where the city plans to have abortions performed for minors.

She said she had been insulted by colleagues and chased down the street by abortion opponents. But she said that having witnessed what happened to women before abortion became legal — she saw cases of septic shock and uncontrolled bleeding from botched abortions — helped her continue her work.

“I am contributing to rescuing women’s rights,” Dr. García said. “In Mexico, women have always been marginalized.”

She added: “I am a Catholic, but I have convictions. I don’t think I’m going to hell. If I go, it will be for something else.”

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