Representative public opinion surveys show growing acceptance of induced abortion and play an important role in expanding abortion access in Mexico.
For more than a decade, the Population Council has been measuring public opinion about abortion and abortion-related stigma among the Mexican population. These surveys have helped to increase discussion related to abortion in Mexico, a country with a Catholic majority, and documented public support for safe, legal abortion services, even in the region of the world with the most restrictive abortion laws. The survey findings provided support for the 2007 decriminalization of first-trimester abortion in Mexico City and are currently contributing to advocacy efforts by the Alliance for the Right to Decide within Mexico City and in other parts of the country.
Unsafe abortion is the fifth-leading cause of maternal mortality in Mexico. Access to legal abortion is severely restricted in most of the country, with the exception of Mexico City where elective abortions have been permitted during the first trimester of pregnancy since 2007. In reaction to the Mexico City policy change, however, a number of other Mexican states moved to tighten abortion restrictions, eliminating exceptions that permit abortion when a woman’s life or health is at risk, when the pregnancy resulted from rape, or in cases of severe fetal abnormalities.
The Council conducted the first-ever national opinion survey on abortion in Mexico in 2000. Researchers found that nearly 8 in 10 Mexicans believed that abortion should be legal in some circumstances, most Mexican Catholics believed the Church and legislators’ personal religious beliefs should not factor into abortion legislation, and most supported public health services in cases when abortion is legal. A second nationally representative survey of 5,600 respondents, fielded in 2013, will indicate whether these opinions have shifted over time.
In 2008, the Council conducted public opinion research in eight of the states that introduced initiatives to ban abortion entirely in the wake of the Mexico City reform. These include four states that had proposed, but not yet passed, new abortion restrictions (Queretaro, State of Mexico, Tabasco, and Veracruz) and four that had already passed new legislation (Baja California, Colima, Morelos, and Sonora). Overall, legal abortion was supported by a sizable proportion of respondents in these states in case of rape (48%–68%), risk to a woman’s life (55%–71%), and risk to a woman’s health (48%–68%). Abortion would be forbidden in all of these cases under the new or proposed legislation in these states.
Public opinion survey findings have been central to the work of the Alliance for the Right to Decide in Mexico, in which the Council participates. Findings from the 2000 national survey played a key role in legislative debates leading to the passage of the Mexico City law in 2007. When the constitutionality of the law was challenged, the National Supreme Court considered the Council’s research findings when deciding to uphold the law.
Over time, the opinion surveys have documented growing openness toward and acceptance of legal abortion in Mexico. The Alliance will continue to leverage the findings to expand access to safe, legal abortion services for women beyond the capital region.