May 1, 2019
Support Networks ‘Invaluable’ for Mexican Women Seeking Illegal Abortions
May 1, 2019
In Mexico, where most states ban abortion completely, women seeking that procedure find support networks on their own.
A note about this series: Global Press Journal reporters around the world examined their communities’ approaches to reproductive health, including values and priorities and how international policies impact them. Read the other stories in this month-long series here.
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO — Already a mother and just a few weeks pregnant again, Cinthia N., 26, was certain she wanted to get an abortion. She was in a relationship with a violent man, she says, and didn’t want to bring another child into that situation.
But abortion is largely illegal in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. Involvement in an abortion, whether as the pregnant woman or as someone assisting, can lead to jail time.
So Cinthia, who asked that her full name not be used because she committed an illegal act, sought out Karla E., an independent abortion companion who dedicates much of her spare time to helping women who want to end their pregnancies.
Karla, who also asked that her full name not be used, told Cinthia how she could use medication that would cause an abortion. That medicine is available in Mexico for use in treating other conditions, including hyperglycemia and gastric ulcers.
Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico
Cinthia ended her pregnancy at home using the pills, while Karla offered her support over the phone. Cinthia says she has no regrets.
“It was the right thing,” she says.
Abortion is highly restricted throughout Mexico. It is only legal in all of the country’s 31 states in one case: if a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. In Chiapas, the other exceptions are in the case of a pregnancy that poses a fatal danger to the health of the mother or if there are congenital defects in the fetus.
Mexico City broadly legalized abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy in 2007, but since then, 19 states, including Chiapas, have reformed their constitutions to assert that life begins at conception. Aborting a pregnancy or helping a woman have an abortion is, in some cases, punishable with prison time. (Read our story about women who were sent to prison after being suspected of having abortions.)
Rigoberto Carlos Jiménez Carrillo, deputy director of pretrial investigations for the Chiapas state Attorney’s office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, says there’s no specific campaign to root out and prosecute people who help women in Chiapas have abortions.
In most cases, he says, women who seek abortions have other women who help them get what they need. Those women are liable for prosecution, he says.
Karla says her work is nothing new. Women have always had abortions, regardless of the law, she says.
“They did it with massages, with herbs,” she says. “It’s part of ancestral medical knowledge.”
A state might criminalize abortion, she says, but women will always provide information to each other about how to end a pregnancy, she says.
Karla operates independently, but she’s part of a network of women who help others get around Chiapas’s abortion laws. The network includes Línea Aborto Chiapas, a free abortion information hotline founded in 2017.
Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico
Volunteers at the hotline provide information about how to have an abortion at home using medication. They also provide counseling and moral support, and do follow-up consultations by phone. They recommend local health centers for women who have complications.
Michelle Dominguez, a volunteer at the service, says the network was inspired by similar programs in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.
“It seemed important to us in Chiapas, where there is no direct line of care,” Michelle says. “There are collectives of larger organizations that give you information on WhatsApp, but we thought that they can have an impersonal character and that women would want someone who talks to them. They feel much more comfortable.”
Línea Aborto Chiapas skirts the law by appealing to Mexico’s constitutional right to information. Article 6 of the Mexican Constitution establishes that every person has the right to freely access information through any medium.
“The right … allows us to give information that the state should provide to women and that it does not,” Michelle says.
Such efforts are widespread throughout the country. A meeting of Acompañantes en Aborto Autónomo (Companions in Autonomous Abortions in English), a network of women with vested interest in the issue, was held in San Cristóbal de las Casas in early April. About 50 women from around the country attended and shared information about their experiences.
Women who want abortions say those networks are invaluable.
Denise S. says she was five weeks along in her pregnancy when she sought an abortion. She asked that Global Press Journal only publish the initial of her last name because she engaged in illegal activity.
Denise called Karla, who reviewed some options and then referred her to another organization which could help. Ultimately, Denise ended her pregnancy at a legal health clinic that secretly provides abortions. She says Karla was on the phone with her through the whole process.
“It’s important to be able to tell someone your situation,” Denise said. “It’s important to vent — that someone can listen to you so you don’t feel so alone, that someone can support you morally.”
Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.