Research undertaken by the Population Council in Mexico played an important part in the passage of the landmark 2007 reform to decriminalize early abortion in Mexico City.
Before 2007, all Mexican states permitted abortions in cases of rape, and nearly all permitted the procedure to save a mother’s life. In practice, however, it was nearly impossible for women in these circumstances to access abortion because of rigid bureaucracy and long delays.
The Paradigm Shift
In 2000, a group of organizations came together to form the National Pro-Choice Alliance for Mexico, dedicated to changing abortion laws in Mexico to protect women’s health. The Council played a key role by providing evidence about abortion access, attitudes, and incidence. Three of the most important contributions to this effort were:
Opinion research: In 2000, the Council surveyed 3,000 Mexicans aged 15–65 about their knowledge of and views on abortion. During a period when abortion laws throughout Mexico were severely restricted, 79 percent of people interviewed believed that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances. And while Mexico is a largely Catholic country, most Mexican Catholics did not want the Church’s and legislators’ beliefs to bear on abortion legislation. Instead, Catholics surveyed supported the delivery of legal abortion in public clinics.
Documentation of barriers to abortion: In 2002, Council researchers interviewed five women who became pregnant as a result of rape and documented the challenges they underwent, including lack of information about the procedure for reporting rape and an inability to obtain an abortion because of delayed access to services. These examples illustrated that even in situations where abortion was legal, access remained limited.
Incidence of abortion: The Population Council collaborated with the Guttmacher Institute to estimate the incidence of induced abortion between 1990 and 2006, before the Mexico City reform. The researchers found that in 2006, roughly 875,000 abortions were performed in Mexico: a rate of 33 per 1,000 women aged 15–44. This represented an increase of one-third from 1990 estimates (25 per 1,000). During the same period, approximately 25,000 women died from causes associated with unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortion—procedures performed by unskilled providers or under conditions that do not meet basic medical standards—are the fifth-leading cause of maternal mortality in Mexico.
The National Pro-Choice Alliance for Mexico used evidence from these and other studies to inform public officials, health providers, and the general population about the importance of increasing access to safe abortion, including the need to ease restrictions on abortion in order to safeguard women’s health, reduce social stigma associated with abortion, and train health providers to offer safe and legal abortions.
The Lasting Impact
On the basis of information generated by the Population Council and others, in 2007 Mexico City’s legislative assembly decriminalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City. Since then, the Mexico City Ministry of Health has provided more than 90,000 free, safe, and legal early abortions to women in the capital.
“Above all, the Population Council stands for leadership and a professionalism that is unmatched,” says Leticia Bonifaz, General Counsel for Mexico City. “The Population Council is an invaluable partner in the Ministry’s work to improve reproductive health in Mexico City—always a team player, ready to lend a hand with genuine respect.”
Garcia, S.G., C. Tatum, D. Becker, K.A. Swanson, K. Lockwood, and C. Ellertson. 2004. “Policy implications for a national public opinion study on abortion in Mexico,” Reproductive Health Matters 12(24 Supplement): 65–74.
Lara, D., S. Garcia, O. Ortiz, and E.A. Yam. 2006. “Challenges accessing legal abortion after rape in Mexico City,” Gaceta Médica de México 142(suppl 2): 85–89.
Juarez, F., S. Singh, S.G. Garcia, and C. Diaz Olavarrieta. 2008.” Estimates of induced abortion in Mexico: What’s changed between 1990 and 2006?” International Family Planning Perspectives 34(4): 2–12.